Cook promises torture equipment inquiry

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The Independent Online

Robin Cook has promised to investigate how leg irons made in England were sold openly in the United States more than two years after the Government promised to ban their export.

Robin Cook has promised to investigate how leg irons made in England were sold openly in the United States more than two years after the Government promised to ban their export.

In a letter to The Independent, which revealed yesterday that the "cuffs" from Hiatt in Birmingham were still on sale, the Foreign Secretary said he was determined to stop the trade. Officials would pursue the allegations, he added.

Mr Cook denied that the Government had failed to do enough to stop torture equipment being sold and suggested the leg irons bought by The Independent in New Jersey might be "old stock". However, the shop they came from said they were from a recent delivery. The company's US partner, Hiatt Thompson, uses the Hiatt and Co logo on its website to advertise leg cuffs.

Mr Cook said he had specifically mentioned leg irons when he announced a ban on torture equipment in July 1997. Yesterday's article said no action had been taken to change the rules.

Ministers will face questions from MPs on how the cuffs could have been exported when no licence appeared to have been granted. Hiatt said it had licences to export "Big Brutus" handcuffs with the same dimensions as the leg irons, but the Department of Trade and Industry said it had granted none between 2 May 1997 and 31 December 1998.

One possible explanation was that the cuffs were exported as components and attached to 14-inch chains on arrival. No export licence would be needed to do that, the DTI said. A spokeswoman added that a ban on the manufacture of leg irons would interfere with legitimate makers of handcuffs. Hiatt is the only UK manufacturer which exports handcuffs and its chairman, Geoffrey Cross, was on the Defence Manufacturers Association export committee in 1997.

Ann Clwyd, who chairs the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, was tabling questions on the matter last night.

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