Hain puts lock on export of leg-iron 'torture equipment'

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Indy Politics

New measures are being taken to stop the export oftorture equipment after The Independent revealed British leg-irons were openly on sale abroad despite a government ban.

New measures are being taken to stop the export oftorture equipment after The Independent revealed British leg-irons were openly on sale abroad despite a government ban.

Peter Hain, a Foreign Office minister, announced the change in the law after leg-irons from Hiatt of Birmingham stamped "Made in England" were found on sale in the United States last year.

There were suggestions the cuffs and the 14-inch chain that linked them might have been exported as separate components and assembled in America as a way of side-stepping existing controls.

In future, all handcuffs with an internal diameter of more than 52 millimetres - fractionally more than two inches - will require export licences.

Ministers say they will not grant such licences for leg irons though they do allow the export of oversized handcuffs, which are identical but with a shorter chain.

Yesterday Mr Hain said licence applications would be judged against stringent criteria. "These controls are designed to prevent any exploitation of ambiguities in current legislation," he said. "This measure is consistent with the Government's commitment to make our arms export policy even more responsible and accountable."

A spokesman for Amnesty International welcomed the move but called for the Government to go further and legislate to stop torture equipment from being traded by arms brokers and from being made abroad under licence from British companies. "These sorts of equipment are liable to slip through the loopholes that still exist in UK export controls," he said. After the revelations in The Independent, the Foreign Office asked US Customs to investigate.

They concluded the leg irons purchased there must have been in a store-room since the early 1980s, when their export from Britain was banned. It has declined to publish the Customs report.

Robin Cook told MPs in July 1997 that the Government was committed to preventing British firms from manufacturing, selling or procuring equipment designed for torture.

Hiatt of Birmingham was founded in 1780. Its American partner distributor, Hiatt Thompson, still sells leg-irons in the US, but the firm says there is no corporate link between the two companies.

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.

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