The must-have rocket launcher for toddlers

London department store withdraws sell-out toy based on Soviet-era weapon after parents brand it 'sick'

Liberty, the luxury department store, apologised yesterday for selling wooden toy versions of Soviet-era Katyusha rocket launchers. The £23.50 toy, available in baby pink, yellow or natural wood, was described as "tasteless" and "vile", particularly as the colours and simplicity of the design appeared to be marketed at younger children.

Katyusha rocket launchers were first used by the Soviet Union in the Second World War and more recently by Hezbollah militants to fire rockets into Israel during the 2006 conflict and in Libya last year.

The toy version, which was available online and in Liberty's Regent Street shop in London, had been reduced to half price last week. It is made by the Dutch design company Kids on Roof, whose slogan is "for creative and playful kids and grown-ups". The Katyusha rocket launcher and a wooden Russian tank are listed on the Kids on Roof website under the category "uncensored toys", and the designers claim the toys are "not meant to shock. Let kids play war peacefully – as they have been doing for centuries and will do for centuries to come".

But Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP and parliamentary aide to Nick Clegg, who has campaigned against inappropriate toys and clothing for children, said: "Liberty can sell what they like, but I think it is bizarre. This very week negotiators at the United Nations are working to agree a historic arms trade treaty. When small children in conflict zones around the world are being killed and maimed by rocket launchers, it seems rather tasteless to be marketing a sanitised pink version to young children in our country."

The rocket launchers provoked a mixed response on the Mumsnet website yesterday. One chatroom member with the username UnChartered wrote: "Maybe there will be a range of dolls with horrific injuries too? I'm trying to joke about this, but feel increasingly sick." "Laudinum" wrote that her daughter thought it was a "sick joke" and that the "entire concept was vile".

But "TodaysAGoodDay" wrote: "A bit of a silly idea for a child's toy, but if it doesn't actually hurt anyone it's fine. I don't know any little boys who don't have a toy gun around the place, and if they haven't got one they usually improvise with sticks, cardboard tubes etc."

Kids on Roof did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. A spokesman for Liberty said: "These toys have sold out on the website and in the store. It was an oversight in terms of ordering something without thinking through what it was.

"This company does trucks and cars made of wood, things that our customers really like. But the rocket launcher was an oversight on our part. We do not condone warfare and we apologise for any offence caused. We won't be selling anything like that again."

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