pounds 2.3m Tory bill for faulty plastic bullets

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The Conservative government spent pounds 2.3m on more than 3,500 years' supply of plastic bullets, most of which were faulty.

Information released to Brian Sedgemore, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, has revealed that the police and army continued to use the first batch of 284,500 rounds for a year after it became clear that they were firing too fast and were dangerous.

Then, when the manufacturers had been given time to produce a new batch, a further 94,000 were ordered. The first batch cost pounds 1.7m, and the second pounds 685,000.

In 1992, the year before the first consignment was ordered, just 88 plastic bullets were fired in Northern Ireland. In 1995, the year before the next batch was bought, just 273 were used.

Even at 1996 levels, when more than 8,300 plastic bullets were used - the highest number for 15 years - supplies would have lasted for 45 years.

Many of the remaining, non-faulty bullets are likely to be scrapped because the Government hopes to develop a safer replacement. Since 1981 more than 1,000 people have been injured by the bullets, though no one has been killed by them since 1989. Almost 9,000 of the faulty bullets were fired during disturbances in the province last year. A further 45,000 were withdrawn after the new, more accurate batch was introduced.

The remaining 230,000 were used in training, according to the Ministry of Defence, even though there is a laser simulator for that purpose.

The MoD decided to stop using the faulty bullets in February 1997 and finally withdrew them in April, even though it had known since early 1996 that they were firing too fast.