Plastic bullets ‘tested on pigs’

Paul Whitters, who died after being hit by a plastic bullet in 1981. LS16-550MT.
Paul Whitters, who died after being hit by a plastic bullet in 1981. LS16-550MT.

A Derry human rights group claims recently declassified government documents appear to indicate that plastic bullets could have been banned in the early 1980s had the full truth about how lethal they actually were been revealed.

Writing in tomorrow’s ‘Journal’, Paul O’Connor, of the Pat Finucane Centre, says that British government files also disclose that, in May 1982, an independent medical committee evaluating the results of the testing of plastic bullets expressed concern that “little information” was being made available to it on the circumstances surrounding deaths or serious injuries.

Mr. O’Connor suggests the documentation also indicates that, “in the absence of actual medical data... scientists were carrying out tests by firing plastic bullets at pigs.”

Official memos from the time point to concerns that such a revelation might anger the animal rights lobby.

The declassified files also refer to scientific research which concluded that the plastic bullets being fired by the British Army in Northern Ireland had a kinetic energy more than four times that deemed potentially fatal by government scientists.

Paul O’Connor concludes: “If scientists were reaching such damning conclusions in the absence of hard evidence from the streets of Derry and Belfast, it seems reasonable to assume that the medical committee might well have recommended a full ban on plastic bullets had they been fully briefed on the horrific injuries being encountered in A&E Departments across the North. Lives might well have been saved. “

The release of the government files coincide with the anniversaries of the deaths of two Derry teenagers killed by plastic bullets.

Last Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of the British Army killing of 11 year old Stephen McConomy. Tomorrow, April 25, is the 31st anniversary of the death of 15 year old Paul Whitters who died nine days after being shot in Great James’ Street.

See tomorrow’s ‘Journal’for Paul O’Connor’s article.