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Police Taser use 'up nearly a third'

Police use of Taser stun guns has increased by nearly a third, figures revealed today.

Officers fired the electro-shock weapons 226 times in the first three months of this year - up from 174 in the last three months of 2008.

The sharp rise followed the decision to allow forces in England and Wales to give Tasers to officers who do not carry traditional firearms.

Critics said the 50,000-volt guns were in danger of becoming "standard issue".

But Police Minister David Hanson said the weapons helped save lives by defusing dangerous situations.

He said: "I am determined to give police all the tools they need to crack down on violent crime.

"Tasers are a vital tool for our frontline officers and that is why we allowed forces to issue them to specially-trained units.

"They are making a real difference on our streets and helping to keep both the public and our police officers safe.

"Tasers have helped defuse dangerous situations where people could have been seriously injured or even killed.

"And often just the threat of the device is enough. On many occasions, drawing or aiming a Taser has proved enough of a deterrent."

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Tom Brake said: "Tasers should be for a few specially trained officers, not standard issue.

"The Government has put large numbers of Tasers in the hands of police officers without any debate.

"Given the increase in Taser use and the fact they have killed hundreds of people in the United States, we must have a full public debate before we slip any further down the slope to fully armed US-style policing."