UNITED CAMPAIGN AGAINST PLASTIC BULLETS
24 JUNE 1997
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
SUBMISSION BY THE UNITED CAMPAIGN AGAINST PLASTIC BULLETS TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Julie Livingstone is dead 16 years. She was 14 when she was murdered. No one was ever charged in respect of her death. Had she not been murdered by a plastic bullet she would have been 30 now. She probably would have been married with children of her own. She might have been playing a key role in building peace in Ireland. We will never know. Sadly her father Archie died in 1995. He spent the last years of his life, even during ill health, campaigning for the truth about Julie's murder to be told. Fighting to ensure no other child was killed by these horrendous weapons. Supporting in his own inimitable way, other families who had suffered in the same way as his. He died without justice and in the knowledge that these weapons were still being used on the streets of the North of Ireland. Knowing that there was a real possibility that more children, like Julie, would be killed by plastic bullets.
This is the human face behind the cold statistics that 17 people, of them children, have been killed by rubber and plastic bullets in the North of Ireland.
Ten year old Stephen Geddis was killed by a plastic bullet on 30 August 1975. A very quiet child, he had refused to go outside for three weeks after returning from a sponsored trip to the USA, a break from the conflict at home. Despite eye witness accounts at the time which stated that Stephen was an innocent bystander, no soldier was ever prosecuted for his murder.
In August 1995, 20 years after Stephen's murder, the police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), reopened his case. A former soldier who witnessed the incident came forward and gave an account of what he saw. This differed significantly from the official British Army version given at the time. The Geddis family do not believe that anyone will go to jail for murdering Stephen, but they hope the truth will be told. Joe Geddis, speaking 20 years after his brothers murder, said of his mother "...All she wants to see happen is for the truth to come out at last about her son and for the family to be left to grieve in peace".
No one has ever been convicted in respect of any of the deaths or injuries resulting from the use of plastic bullets. Only in the case of John Downes, who was murdered in front of thousands of people and the world's media, was anyone charged. No civilian witnesses were called to give evidence at his trial. He was acquitted.
Over 1.5 million pounds has been paid out in compensation but there is a blank refusal to admit liability. Victims and families of those murdered by plastic bullets demand justice not compensation. They want to know who murdered their loved ones, they want to know why they have been blinded and they demand to know who gave the orders.
Twenty six years ago, 51 year old Emma Groves, a mother of 11, was blinded by a rubber bullet when standing in her own sitting room. Emma lost both her eyes. No one was charged. Now 77, Emma still campaigns tirelessly to have plastic bullets banned and to secure justice for those who have suffered. She is the living legacy of these vile weapons. Thousands like her have, and continue to suffer as a result of horrendous injuries sustained by these weapons. Unfortunately the numbers continue to grow. Three young men lost eyes after being hit by plastic bullets last summer. Many more sustained serious head and upper body injuries.
Plastic Bullets replaced rubber bullets and were marketed by the British Government as being "soft squidgy and harmless". The brutal reality has seen plastic bullets murder 8 children and 9 adults. Injuring thousands of others, they have left a catalogue of carnage, grief and brutal sectarian oppression. In only two of the fatalities was it found that the victim was killed during a civilian riot. The very large majority of plastic bullets are fired in non riot situations. Plastic bullets have been and continue to be fired at children at play, young girls on errands for their mothers, at football matches, at young people leaving discos and even into victims homes.
Julie Livingstone (14) died after being hit on the head with a plastic bullet. She had gone on an errand with a friend. Six days later Carol Ann Kelly (12) was hit on the side of the head with a plastic bullet when she was doing an errand for her mother. She died three days later.
Significantly, given last years events and the frightening prospects for this summer, both children died during a period when there was considerable public demonstration on the part of the nationalist community at the political strategies of the British Government - during the hunger strikes.
"I got very scared and frightened. I panicked and ran down the street and a round the corner straight into a line of riot police who had the bottom of the street blocked off. There was a wall dividing them and the group of us who had tried to get away from the trouble. The wall was pretty high up so the police could only see my head and upper body region. I just stood there and felt someone put their hand on my shoulder, and as I turned to see who it was I was hit on the side of the face with plastic bullet. The distance was about 8 yards. I was knocked unconscious for about 5 minutes and really don't remember much more after that. When I came too, people were trying to stem the flow of blood and I was taken to the City Hospital by ambulance.....They had to insert 60 stitches both externally and internally in my face wounds. I have to have 2 steel plates and screws put in to hold the bones of my face together. These will remain there permanently. My face is fractured and broken in 6 or 7 places and is very badly swollen and sore.....When the swelling subsides I have to go back to the hospital for plastic surgery."
This young man, Tommy Turner, is another statistic among the thousands who have been seriously injured, maimed and disfigured by plastic bullets. He could very easily have become the eighteenth person to be murdered by these hideous weapons. He was engaged in a peaceful protest against the forcing through the nationalist Lower Ormeau area of Belfast, of a sectarian Black Preceptary march in August 1995.
US Army research (Technical Report No 74-79, US Army Land Warfare Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland 21005) which is known to the British Government, has proven that the kinetic energy of plastic bullets at range of 25 yards is such that being hit on the head with one at that distance is very likely to cause death. This young man was hit from a distance of only 8 yards. All 14 fatalities from plastic bullets died from injuries sustained to the upper part of the body, 10 from head injuries and 4 from injuries to the chest. In so far as can be ascertained at least half the fatalities were shot at a range of less than 20 meters. 7 of the 14 children were aged 15 or under.
The flagrant and widespread use of lethal force against unarmed civilians,the attempted murder of Tommy Turner on Belfast's Ormeau Road and the firing of an incredible 100 plastic bullets on the same day, 12 August 1995, in Derry, constituted the 1995 "policing" of a disputed and controversial march, one year into the ceasefires. Eye witness accounts state that Tommy Turner was running away from the area when he was hit. There was a clear message sent out by the RUC on 12 August 1995 that they were not neutral in the policing of marches through contentious areas and that they were prepared to use lethal force against the local communities in such circumstances. The firing of the plastic bullets in Belfast and Derry on that occasion, as in so many other occasions, led to further civil disturbances and alienation from the RUC. It was only a precursor of what was to come during the summer of 1996.
Plastic bullets are made of PVC, they weigh 5 grammes, measure 3.5 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter and are fired at a velocity of 250 kilometres per hour. At a range of 25 yards the plastic bullet has a velocity of 56 meters per second and a kinetic energy of 212 joules. Even at a range of 50 yards the kinetic energy is 150 joules. At any range feasible for their effective use the probability of causing death or serious injury is extremely high. Eye witness accounts state that during the summer of 1996 they were being fired at point blank range and so fast that the guns used to fire them were overheating and jamming. Human rights observers, including TD's and Senators from the Irish Government, witnessed plastic bullets being fired at and injuring the head and upper part of the body.
Plastic bullets were introduced into the North as a technological escalation to "control" the legitimate democratic expression of political opposition through street protests. They were introduced, and remain deployed, to silence those who wish to engage in civil protests against the Government, a fundamental right in any democracy, in the same way lead bullets were used on Bloody Sunday. They are deployed with the aim of making people afraid to come out on the streets to protest.
It is not insignificant that 16 of the 17 deaths caused by rubber and plastic bullets were Catholics. Since their introduction they have been used by a protestant security force to frighten and intimidate the nationalist population. This was graphically re-enforced during the summer of 1996. One human rights observer was shocked to see them being aimed at young children in prams in Rutland Street on the nationalist Lower Ormeau Road, Belfast during the 26 hour curfew imposed over the 11/12 July 1996, when the entire street was sandwiched between two rows of RUC landrovers and there was no avenue of "escape". Nor can it be ignored that British Home Secretary refused to use plastic bullets in Britain because "someone might get hurt".
The issue of sectarian marches remains unresolved, ready to explode again within the next two weeks. Post 1996 almost half the population of the North of Ireland are alienated from the Rule of Law and believe, with due cause, that those charged with upholding it are guilty of behaving in a sectarian manner. These same forces of law and order are, despite the Labour Government's pre election policy commitment, still armed with lethal weapons in the form of plastic bullets, as a means of controlling civil disturbances. It is true to say that the Nationalist community in the North of Ireland are terrified at the prospect of these lethal weapons being used again this summer by these sectarian forces.
The 1996 "marching season" saw an escalation in the use of plastic bullets significantly only comparable to the numbers used during the 1981 hunger strike.
From April to August 1981 7 people were killed by plastic bullets in the North (3 of them children). In the month of May 1981, during the hunger strikes, 16,656 plastic bullets were fired, 537 per day. In Derry on three consecutive nights between 11-13 July 1996, 3026 plastic bullets were fired, 1008 per night. In May 1981, 3 innocent people died from head injuries inflicted by plastic bullets in non riot situations.
While researching their excellent report "The Misrule of Law" into the policing of the events of the summer of 1996 in the North of Ireland, the Committee on the Administration of Justice were told that 6002 plastic bullets had been fired during the "12th week". The disparity in the numbers fired against nationalists and unionists highlights the sectarian nature of the use of plastic bullets. In the four day period from 7-11 July 1996, there was widespread public disorder orchestrated by unionists and loyalists who supported the Orange Order's stand off at Drumcree, near the Garvaghy Road, Portadown. Business were petrol bombed, unionist/loyalist roadblocks prevented people moving to or from work or indeed outside of their areas, the airport and the ports were blocked, nationalist communities were attacked and burnt out of their homes. The North was held to ransom. During this time 662 plastic bullets were fired.
During the subsequent 3 days of protests by nationalists at the British Government and RUC's "U" turn forcing the Orange Order parade down the Garvaghy road and the curfewing of the entire nationalist Lower Ormeau Road (Belfast) community, a staggering 5340 plastic bullets were fired, 3026 in three nights in Derry. Human rights observers, who witnessed events throughout the North during that week, were horrified and frightened by the numbers and the manner of the use of plastic bullets, particularly in Derry. They described them as being fired like confetti and plastic bullet guns jamming and overheating because the bullets were being fired so quickly. Observers witnessed large numbers of people with serious injuries including many with head and upper body injuries.
Interestingly the figure of 6002 plastic bullets fired during the 7-14 July 1996 period increased (according to official figures) to 6921 when Human Rights Watch/Helsinki were researching their recently published report "To Serve Without Favour". In statements of 9 June 1997 in respect of the deployment of "faulty" plastic bullets having been used during the summer of 1996, the British Government are now claiming that 7500 faulty plastic bullets had been fired during the summer of 1996. An increase of 1500 or 25% on the original figure given to the Committee on the Administration of Justice. This begs the very serious question of accountability, control and monitoring of soldiers and members of the RUC firing of lethal rounds. The discrepancy in figures can only lead one to assume that those issued with and using lethal force do not even have to account for lethal rounds discharged. Ipso facto they can kill with impunity.
In respect of the use of plastic bullets the security forces in the North of Ireland have been guilty of, and continue to perpetrate, gross human rights abuses. No member of the security forces has been convicted of any incident in relation to the use of these lethal weapons. They have been granted impunity in respect of the murder of 17 men, women and children and the injury of thousands of others.
The use of plastic bullets contravenes domestic and international law. This was starkly highlighted in the manner in which they were used during 1996. Their use is inconsistent with the use of minimum force and should not be tolerated by any society aiming to maintain democratic and human rights standards. Facts surrounding the use of plastic bullets unequivocally demonstrate that the British Government has repeatedly breached articles in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which guarantee the right to life, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Relatives and victims of these weapons have been denied access to the facts and evidence surrounding the deployment of plastic and rubber bullets in circumstances which have resulted in death and serious injury. In the absence of prosecutions on the part of the British government relatives have sought justice through private prosecutions. In such cases they have been denied access to the identity of the individuals responsible for the discharge of the fatal bullet. Families who have pursued redress through national and international courts have been systematically harassed and intimidated by the British Army and the RUC.
Claims for damages through the civil courts have been indefensibly delayed. Those who have received compensation for death/injury have had such damages as they have received clawed back through the withholding of state benefits. Civil claims have been settled out of court with no admission of liability and no full disclosure of the facts of the case. In an attempt to dissuade those who have been injured by plastic bullets from pursuing legal redress, victims have been threatened with fabricated prosecutions.
In the absence of criminal or civil cases being heard in open court the only means by which relatives can find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones has been through the inquest process. In some cases the State has refused to hold inquests. Others have been inexcusably delayed. In some cases the State has lied to families about the proceedings. Death certificates have been withheld for inordinately long periods of time.
The plastic bullet has been found to be ballistically unstable. In October 1991 the British Government admitted that the anti riot gun weapon used to fire plastic bullets was defective. The design faults of these weapons have been known since 1982 Because of monetary considerations, 1987 plans to replace the weapons were shelved despite the body of evidence that the gun was faulty. This admission begs a number of questions;
Dr Peter Waddington, Director of the Criminal Justice Department at Reading University, carried out research into the weapon and found it to be inaccurate by a distance of about 10 feet at a range of less than 30 yards and that the bullet is ballistically unstable. It doesn't maintain its orientation... it's direction becomes variable and it weaves around in flight.
Ian Hogg, editor of the defense manual Jane's Counterinsurgency believes plastic bullets of their very nature to be dangerous. He stated "It is just a slab of plastic and with the best will in the world you can't guarantee where it is going to go when you pull the trigger-you do your best to aim at a specific spot but it has no ballistic shape, doesn't spin so it is not stable that way and it will hit and bounce and do all sort of stupid things."
On 9 June 1997 in answer to a Parliamentary question the British Government stated that plastic bullets issued in early 1994 including the majority of those used during the summer of 1996 in the North of Ireland, were again faulty. The admission came only days after Human Rights Watch condemned the use of plastic bullets and more worryingly just weeks before the disputed Orange Order march on the nationalist Garvaghy Road. The "admission" is a feeble attempt to silence any international concerns about their use again this summer and to counteract the irrefutable evidence, including the US Army research, that plastic bullets are by their very nature lethal weapons which cause death and horrendous injuries. Faulty weapons was also the excuse used for the murder of John Downes, Stephen McConomy and the only protestant murder by these weapons, Keith White.
Rules of engagement for the use of Plastic Bullets have been issued,
but are not available to the public. The Chief Constable of the RUC told
Human Rights Watch that;
"Plastic bullets are not to be shot at a range of less than twenty meters and are not to be bounced off the ground. They are only to be shot if the safety of police officers or others is seriously threatened. Plastic baton rounds are to be fired only at selected individuals and never indiscriminately at a crowd. they are to be aimed to strike the lower part of the target person's body directly".
All those murdered by these weapons have died as a result of injury to the head or upper part of the body. Emma Groves is unfortunately one of a growing number of individuals who have lost one or both eyes as a consequence of being shot by these weapons. They were fired according to one eye witness like confetti in Derry on the night of the 12 July 1996.
Evidence indicates that individual members of the security forces are sometimes unaware of the existence of rules of engagement, were usually ignorant of what the rules stated and rarely adhered to them. This again was obvious given the actions of the RUC and Army over the summer of 1996. The rules are not legally enforceable. So far as can be ascertained no member of the security forces has even been disciplined for breaching the Rules of Engagement.
Human Rights Watch in their recent report concluded that .."plastic bullet use in many instances was indiscriminate and that the RUC's own guidelines for use were ignored. Moreover, testimony from numerous people indicates that the verbal abuse levelled against nationalists by the RUC officers was sectarian in nature and thus lends credence to allegations of the sectarian nature use of plastic bullets."
Over the years the use of plastic bullets has been and continues to
be condemned by the human rights and international community. As early
as 13 May 1982 the European Community passed a motion calling on Governments
of Member States to ban the use of plastic bullets. There is currently
a report before the European Parliament which proves that the use of plastic
bullets is counterproductive in that it provokes rather than quells violence.
In July 1983 the Northern Catholic Bishops said the use of plastic bullets
was morally indefensible and that they should be withdrawn.
In 1995 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced it's concern about the use of plastic bullets in the North of Ireland. Recently the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee Against Torture also voiced their concerns about their continued use. The Committee on the Administration of Justice, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, and British Irish Rights Watch have all called for plastic bullets to be banned. Amnesty International have voiced their concerns about their use and are calling for an enquiry.
The January 1996 report of the International Body chaired by Senator George Mitchell called for a review of the use of plastic bullets. Paragraph 55 of the Report states that "a review of... the use of plastic bullets, and continued progress towards more balanced representation in the police force would contribute to the building of trust." The then British Prime Minister, John Major, binned that paragraph along with the rest of Senator Mitchell's report.
In March 1995 at a Belfast conference, organised by the Committee on the Administration of Justice, John Shattock, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, stated "Anyone and everyone desiring a peaceful future for Northern Ireland must support the......elimination of such deadly security measures as the use of plastic bullets for civilian crowd control".
The increased militarisation of the security forces in the North of
Ireland is to be viewed as a retrogressive step in respect of policing.
The use of military and technological means to suppress political expression,
like that of the communities opposing the routing of sectarian Orange marches
through their areas, is particularly to be deplored as a serious threat
to any democratic society. The increased militarisation technology has
spawned, especially in the hands of the sectarian security forces in the
North of Ireland, exists as a barrier to the creation of any peaceful,
Until the use of lethal force in the form of plastic bullets is ended, stock piles decommissioned and the truth about the deaths and injuries caused by these weapons told, building peace, democracy, trust and faith in the Rule of Law will be an impossible task.
The UNITED CAMPAIGN AGAINST PLASTIC BULLETS, respectfully requests the HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS to do all within it's power to secure a withdrawal of plastic bullets in the North of Ireland and to secure justice for all who have suffered as a result of their use because;
And least we forget the human reality behind the statistics amid the legal and political arguments, those who were murdered by rubber and plastic bullets were.....
Francis Rowntree 11 years 20 April 1972 Tobias Molloy 18 years 16 July 1972 Thomas Friel 21 years 22 May 1973
Stephen Geddis 10 years 30 August 1975 Brian Stewart 13 years 10 October 1976 Michael Donnelly 21 years 10 August 1980 Paul Whitters 15 years 25 April 1981 Julie Livingstone 14 years 13 May 1981 Carol Ann Kelly 12 years 22 May 1981 Henry Duffy 45 years 22 May 1981 Nora McCabe 30 years 9 July 1981 Peter Doherty 40 years 31 July 1981 Peter McGuiness 41 years 8 August 1981 Stephen McConomy 11 years 19 April 1982 John Downes 23 years 12 August 1984 Keith White 20 years 14 April 1986 Seamus Duffy 15 years 9 August 1989
Prepared by the UNITED CAMPAIGN AGAINST PLASTIC BULLETS 92 STEWARTSTOWN PARK BELFAST BT11 9GN IRELAND
The United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets is a non political,
non sectarian group, committed to the banning of plastic bullets and the
securing of justice for all those who have suffered as a result of the
use of plastic bullets. The Group consists of relatives and victims of
those who have been killed or injured by plastic bullets in the North of
24 June 1997
BRIEF SUMMARY OF PREPARED STATEMENT OF BRENDA DOWNES OF THE UNITED CAMPAIGN AGAINST PLASTIC BULLETS TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS ON THE 24 JUNE 1997