For sale: the banned leg shackles used for torture

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The Independent Online

Torture equipment made in Britain is openly on sale abroad despite a ban announced by ministers almost two and a half years ago.

Torture equipment made in Britain is openly on sale abroad despite a ban announced by ministers almost two and a half years ago.

The leg-irons, available in the United States, are believed to be legally exported as oversized handcuffs and then adapted. The leg-irons, which are attached by a 14-inch chain, are stamped "Made in England" and are from Hiatt of Birmingham,founded in 1780, which once sold "Nigger Collars" to slave traders, according to its official history.

A Briton who says he was held in Hiatt leg-irons in a Saudi jail has said he saw them used to hang other prisoners upside down while they were beaten. After a time the irons were acutely painful, he said.

Ministers are facing questions from MPs wanting to know why a ban announced in the Commons in July 1997 has not been implemented. Robin Cook told MPs the Government was committed to preventing British firms from manufacturing, selling or procuring equipment designed for torture.

But The Independent has established that UK companies can still do all those things. A dealer in Surrey was able to advertise stun-guns on a government website quite legally last month. And a promise to regulate UK-based arms brokers who procure goods abroad for clients will not be included in the Queen's Speech tomorrow.

Angela Browning, the Conservative trade and industry spokesman, said the Tories might bring a Commons debate on the issue. "This Government seems to have a totally laissez faire attitude. They say one thing and do another - it is extraordinary after all the promises they have made," she said.

Only one change was made after the 1997 statement - to the orders that control the export of weapons. While "portable anti-riot devices for administering an electric shock" have needed an export licence for many years, the rules now add goods "for riot control or self-protection ... including electric shock shields, stun-guns and electric shock dart guns".

Mr Cook promised to ban the manufacture of leg-irons, shackles and gang-chains in Britain, but no action was taken. Electro-shock weapons cannot be manufactured, bought or sold in Britain, but UK brokers can offer them for sale if they are transferring them between two foreign countries. A 1998 White Paper promised the regulation of arms brokers but no legislation is planned at present.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was keen to press ahead with measures to end the trade.

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