Howard approves police baton trials: Police Federation welcomes decision after years of lobbying. Terry Kirby reports

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MICHAEL HOWARD, the Home Secretary, yesterday gave police permission to start trials of the controversial side-handled baton - despite the decision of his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, to halt earlier planned tests.

The move was welcomed by the Police Federation, which has lobbied for trials for several years.

Mr Howard signalled his willingness to allow trials in June when he authorised scientific tests on the 24-inch long, expandable batons, first used in the United States. The tests have shown that the baton is a better defence for police and less likely to cause injury than the existing wooden truncheon.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday during a debate on the Queen's Speech, Mr Howard said: 'If the expandable side-handled baton is proved to be effective in protecting police officers from attack then they should have it.' He stressed the expandable version of the baton was much less conspicuous to carry and looked less aggressive than the rigid version, which has to hang from an officer's waist.

Yesterday's announcement said that 13 forces, including the Metropolitan Police, will begin trials of the batons in January after being given 12 hours' instruction in its use.

The tests, which will include further scientific analysis and a survey of public opinion, will be completed in July.

Eight forces, including the Metropolitan Police, are testing three other types of batons: a 20.5in rigid nylon baton, a 24in steel and polycarbonate expandable truncheon and a lightweight 26-inch baton of rubber-coated rattan with a rubber handle.

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