The organisers of one of the world’s largest arms fairs in London were today accused of failing to crack down on the sale of equipment that could could be used in torture after two exhibitors were found to be illegally marketing shackles and electric stun weapons.
Human rights campaigners discovered the two companies, French firm MagForce International and Chinese company Tian Jin MyWay International Trading, were offering leg irons and electric batons - described as “undesirable” under UK guidelines - in catalogues on display at the vast Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) show in Docklands.
It was only after the incident was raised in Parliament by Green MP Caroline Lucas that organisers moved in to take action, ordering both the Chinese and French companies to dismantle their stalls before ejecting them from the exhibition attended by 30,000 people.
The revelation that items subject to draconian legal restrictions which ban their sale or promotion in Britain were being marketed at the fair attended by some of the biggest names in the defence industry, including BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, will be an embarrassment after repeated undertakings to weed out exhibitors breaking the rules at previous exhibitions.
The DSEI website specifically prohibits the marketing of “leg irons, gang chains, shackles” and “electric-shock batons... stun guns and electric shock dart guns”.
When an executive from Beijing-based Tian Jin MyWay, one of a handful of Chinese exhibitors at the fair, was asked was asked by The Independent what purpose was served by a set of heavy metal manacles marked as “fetters” in its catalogue, he said: “What do you think they are used for?”
Ms Lucas said: “It’s frankly disgusting that items like this are being are being promoted at a supposedly legitimate trade event in Britain. Time and again the organisers of DSEI have shown that they cannot guarantee that exhibitors will remain within the law. It’s time for the Government to take action and shut down this event once and for all.”
The promotional material obtained by The Independent shows that both companies were offering a range of handcuffs and restraints to potential customers touring the ExCeL centre for the four-day event. Among the countries granted official delegate status for event are Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Any restraints which are not “ordinary handcuffs” similar to those used by British police and all electric shock devices “modified for the purpose or riot control or self-protection” are listed as “Category A” items in trade controls designed to thwart the sale of materials that could be used for torture.
Though they are not illegal, any trade can only take place with a Government licence which is highly unlikely to be granted and their promotion is banned under the 2008 Export Control Order.
Government guidelines state: “These strict controls reflect the fact that the supply of many of these goods is inherently undesirable. Licences will not normally be granted for any trade in paramilitary goods listed because of their use in torture.”
When approached by The Independent, executives for both MagForce and Tian Jin MyWay insisted that the items were not being offered for sale in Britain and were part of general sales literature used for customers around the world.
A spokesman for MagForce said: “As far as I am aware we have never sold any of these items. Most of our customers are in Africa. We act as a supplier and we do not manufacture these goods.”
MPs this summer criticised the Government and the organisers of DSEI for “inadequate” supervision of controls on the promotion of Category A items after two companies were found to have been marketing banned items, including cluster munitions, at the same event two years ago.
A source close to the Select Committee on Arms Control Exports said: “If there have been further breaches this year then that is shocking, and I am sure, to say the least, that a dim view will be taken.”
Ian Prichard, research co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “Magforce and Tianjin MyWay shouldn’t have been allowed into the arms fair and it says a lot that it is down to an MP to monitor exhibitors.”
DSEI, which is organised by international conferences company Clarion Events, said it had passed the matter to HM Revenue & Customs for further investigation.
In a statement, DSEI said: “We can confirm that Tian Jin Myway International Trading Co and MagForce International have been ejected from DSEI having been found with literature in breach of our compliance policy. The stands have been shut down and the exhibitors ejected.
“This action highlights our commitment to ensuring that all equipment, services, promotional material, documentation and anything else on display at DSEI complies with domestic and international law.”