Taser firm loses licence over Moat police supply

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The Independent Online

The firm that supplies Tasers to police forces across the UK has had its licence revoked after supplying the weapons used by officers in the stand-off with gunman Raoul Moat, the Home Office said today.

Pro-Tect Systems breached its licence by supplying the X12 Tasers and XRep ammunition, which were still being tested by the Home Office, directly to two police forces, the Home Office said.

Home Secretary Theresa May revoked the firm's licence to import and sell Tasers following an investigation into the use of the weapons at the end of one of Britain's biggest manhunts.

Armed police fired two Tasers at Moat in an "effort to stop him taking his own life" in the Riverside park area in Rothbury, Northumberland, in the early hours of July 10, an inquest at Newcastle Civic Centre was told.

The Tasers can deliver up to 20 seconds of electric shock in bullet-like capsules from a standard 12-gauge shotgun or a X12 Taser.

Mrs May revoked Pro-Tect's licence after inquiries revealed it supplied the Tasers, which should have only been supplied to the Home Office Science and Development Branch (HOSDB), directly to police.

The firm also breached the rules "governing the secure transport of the devices and ammunition", the Home Office said.

In a letter to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said the Home Secretary was "satisfied that the company supplied X12 Tasers and XRep ammunition to Northumbria Police and to another police force contrary to their authority".

"In considering what action to take, the Home Secretary has taken into account the representations made by the company's solicitors on their behalf but in view of the serious nature of the breaches has decided not to renew the company's current authorities," he wrote.

Mr Brokenshire said he could not provide any further details due to ongoing investigations and "the possibility of charges being laid against the company".

But he said the Home Office was working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to ensure that police forces have adequate Taser stocks while Taser International identifies a new UK supplier.

A short-term authority has been granted to allow the firm to dispose of its remaining stock, he said.

In today's letter to Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, Mr Brokenshire said: "Following the Raoul Moat incident and an investigation by Northamptonshire Police, the Home Secretary is satisfied that the company supplied X12 Tasers and XRep ammunition to Northumbria Police and to another police force contrary to their authority, which only allowed them to supply these items to the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, who were evaluating their effectiveness."

Mr Brokenshire added that the police forces concerned were deemed to be Crown servants under the Firearms Act 1968 and "were lawfully able to acquire these items".

There was no suggestion that any blame should be attached to the officers involved and the Home Office has stressed that police could use any weapon they saw fit as long as its use was "lawful, reasonable and proportionate".

The stand-off with the steroid-addicted former nightclub doorman ended the seven-day manhunt which was triggered when Moat shot his former girlfriend, Samantha Stobbart, 22, killed her new boyfriend, Chris Brown, 29, and blinded Pc David Rathband, 42.

But the precise sequence of events regarding the discharge of the XRep Tasers in relation to Moat firing his sawn-off shotgun has not been established and is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the inquest into his death was told.

Steve Reynolds, of the IPCC, said: "The review of tactics will consider the deployment and use of the XRep Taser."

Pro-Tect Systems said it could not comment while the IPCC investigation was going on.

The firm's breach of its licence, first reported by Sky News, was revealed during inquiries into Moat's death and by an investigation by Northamptonshire Police.

"Faced with these breaches, the Home Secretary has decided to revoke Pro-Tect's licence to supply Tasers," the Home Office said.

Amnesty International said it was "seriously concerned that the Taser XRep appears to have been used without it having gone through the official weapons testing and approval process".

Oliver Sprague, director of the human rights charity's arms programme, said: "A weapon like this should not be in the UK police force's arsenal until it has passed all the necessary checks.

"If and when such approval is given, a weapon like the XRep should be given only to specialist firearms officers where it is used only as an alternative to using lethal force."

Earlier today, Moat's brother, Angus, said officers used his brother as a "guinea pig".

"They had not used them before, and that was not the time or the place to conduct an experiment," he said.

"They used Raoul as a guinea pig."

The 40-year-old tax officer, of Shieldfield, Newcastle, said the family still have concerns about the sequence of events and were awaiting the results of a second post-mortem examination.

West Mercia assistant chief constable Simon Chesterman, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: "The Home Secretary's decision to revoke the Pro-Tect licence to import and supply Taser does not affect the police use of this important tactical option.

"Taser is a critical and recognised less-lethal option to resolve high-risk situations involving extreme violence or the threat of such violence.

"Acpo is working with the Home Office to ensure that police forces have adequate Taser stocks to cover any transition period and Taser will continue to be deployed in situations where its use can help to prevent harm to any member of the public."