Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (60-80)

THURSDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2001

MR DAVID RAY AND MR PAUL CROWTHER

  60. Where is the locked box? Is it in the car, a saloon car, would it be in the car itself or would be in the boot of the car?
  (Mr Ray) It varies with the type of vehicle but invariably it is in the boot but accessible from inside if it was needed in an emergency. If it is purely transiting it can be in the boot and it does not have to be accessible.

  61. As you get more involved with investigations into terrorism and incidents outside of the site under what circumstances would you take the weapon out of the boot of the car? Would there need to be permission?
  (Mr Ray) They would not remove the weapon except for self-arming as we describe it when they arm themselves without prior authority and that has to be an extreme emergency where they personally face danger justifying the use of firearms.

  62. So where would that authority come from?
  (Mr Ray) That comes from The Criminal Law Act. They have got power to defend themselves.

  63. So the individual could make that decision within a car?
  (Mr Ray) That they would do but they have to subsequently immediately get retrospective authority if you like. They have to inform their control. If you are facing someone shooting at you, you cannot get on the radio and ask for permission. They are by law allowed to draw a weapon and respond. That is an extremely limited situation. It has never happened in fact.

  64. My guess is that they would not be facing someone shooting at them and then decide to go to the boot of the car, unlock the boot of the car, unlock the box and retrieve the weapon. Those would not be the circumstances, would they, whereby they would be in the middle of an incident and then go to the boot of the car? One would expect that they would anticipate an incident before they took the weapon out of the boot of the car. I wondered in what circumstances they would have a procedure to deal with that in the light of these changing circumstances. What about the question of relationships with other forces? That is quite important, that they do not shoot other police officers whilst doing their duties.
  (Mr Crowther) I entirely agree with that.
  (Mr Ray) We have already a joint patrol if you like with another force. We tend to make a point of complying with their conventions on the carriage of firearms. Most forces, even when they have armed response vehicles (and we do not as a matter of course), the weapons are kept in the box; they are not carried on the officers themselves until they are asked to attend the scene of an incident where they might be asked to use them. Then specific authority is given by radio or telephone and, if time, it is from a chief officer's authority. In an emergency it is from a local inspector. There is a supervision over the issue of such firearms. Then it is only when they are being deployed to a situation where they might have to justify the use of firearms.

  65. Do you expect any real changes in the deployment as a result of your increasing powers and do you think that that will require any increased training or any different thinking about the use of firearms?
  (Mr Ray) I am comfortable that the current level of training and expertise is adequate in this force to deal with the new situation. We have got a reputation for a very safe record in the use and handling of firearms and a very responsible attitude. We also have a very close relationship with local forces. When I am describing movement of firearms there are two scenarios. One is when we are simply moving firearms from one MoD establishment to another and we need to move them. That is where they are separated with the ammunition in one vehicle and the weapons in another vehicle, so that even if one vehicle were stopped they could not get to the ammunition. The only time when the weapons are in an armed box ready for immediate deployment is if we have an approved, by prior written agreement, armed patrol. These are extremely rare and subject to written protocols with the local force by prior agreement with the chief officer. We have to satisfy in that protocol the means by which they are going to be carried, the circumstances in which they would be used. The Home Office forces with which we have those protocols are content that those conditions meet their requirements.

Chairman

  66. There was a time in the 1980s when more and more police officers in home department police forces had access to firearms. They had to go to the local police station, pick them up, sign them out, and go off to an emergency. Unfortunately, in some cases the wrong people were shot and the police then appeared—I might be wrong—to devolve responsibility for using guns upon far more specialist officers who were less likely to shoot somebody by accident than the normal police officer for whom the gun was an add-on responsibility. All of your officers I presume have firearms training. Do you have specialist teams, SWAT squad teams, and how can you ensure as far as possible that the ordinary MoD police officer is adequately trained so as to minimise the risk in a crisis of accidentally shooting someone? What kind of briefing do they have? Can you send us the documents? What do you do by way of training, re-training, testing so that if people do not reach a certain level they go back and do more training? Perhaps you could drop us a note on that.
  (Mr Ray) I could briefly outline the circumstances now. The basic training is one week on the handgun. If they are required by their duties to carry a rifle then it is a further two weeks' training. Every three or four months, depending on the type of establishment, they have to go for re-qualification training. Once a year they do tactical training. That is the basis. The basic training meets the need for the basic armed officer. There is a range of skills and experience and training to meet their operational requirement. The stand-off officer at the front gate has a different level of skills and equipment from the armed response personnel within secure establishments who are probably trained to the highest level. Tactical Options 4 and 5 is the description. They do far more regular training. The range of skills has to be commensurate with the risk and the need. We do not train everybody to the highest standards. Those who need tactical training on a regular basis get it more regularly than just once a year.

  67. Is this specialist group deployed around the country? There is not much point having a specialist group at Wethersfield if an incident takes place in the north east or the north west.
  (Mr Ray) In some places they are deployed within establishment if there is cause for a particular need within that establishment for that immediate response. In other cases there is a contingency to provide a trained response if required.

Patrick Mercer

  68. What variety of weapons are you trained to carry?
  (Mr Ray) Our basic MoD weapon is the Browning and the rifle is the SA80. In some places we have the MP5 which is a traditional police weapon.

  69. So essentially three different types of firearm?
  (Mr Ray) Yes.

  70. And one and a half million loads and unloads a year?
  (Mr Ray) It is 1.4 million.

  71. With no negligent discharges?
  (Mr Ray) Yes.

  Patrick Mercer: That is remarkable.

  Chairman: We must get the Army to have those standards.

Patrick Mercer

  72. I was going to say, if the Army could achieve that they would have extremely proud of themselves. And in training, any negligent discharges?
  (Mr Ray) No. We are very proud of our record and we are very pleased that we have this very high level of responsible officers.

  Chairman: I detect a note of incredulity in my colleague's question.

Patrick Mercer

  73. Envy.
  (Mr Ray) I can assure you that every negligent discharge would be the subject of a disciplinary inquiry.

Mr Roy

  74. Can I have some clarification on firearms and specifically on protocol? It is my understanding that in Scotland at the moment that protocol insists that the local chief constable can speak to the MDP before those arms are moved out of MoD property, but that that is not the case in the protocol in England and Wales at the moment. Can you clarify that because that is not what you said a couple of minutes ago.
  (Mr Ray) There is a difference in the wording of the protocol in England and Wales and Scotland. I have got them here but I am not exactly sure of the exact wording. I think the effect could well be that the Scots forces require us to notify them in advance. We tend to do that anyway as a matter of safety.

  75. Yes, but being required to do it and tending to do it are two different things. My understanding is that you are required to do it in Scotland before they move, but the protocol does not say that for England and Wales.
  (Mr Ray) I think there are slight differences in the two protocols agreed by the forces. That they would negotiate and consult us on separately. Scots officers require slightly different wording.

Chairman

  76. We have the document.
  (Mr Ray) I can give you a response on that and a copy of the protocol.

Mr Roy

  77. If it is the case that the protocols are different, I find it quite alarming that this is a specification laid down in Scotland and yet for some reason it has been omitted in England and Wales. If that has been omitted would this be one of the issues that you would look at? From what you are saying this is going to be looked at before the end of the month. Would you then ensure that this is looked at and that it is as strong in England and Wales as it is in Scotland?
  (Mr Ray) The operational circumstances in Scotland and in England and Wales are slightly different in some cases. The legal situation is different. There are inevitably differences. Policing is very much tailored to meet local demand. If Scotland decided they needed it, and England and Wales decided they did not for good operational reasons, I am sure that was fully taken into account in the consultation process.

  78. Surely if it is highly important that there is discussion before the arms are moved in Scotland, the people in England and Wales should expect that it is equally highly important that it is discussed as well?
  (Mr Ray) It has never been a problem in England and Wales and we have had no difficulty with it, nor have we had a difficulty in Scotland, I have to say. It may be just a different perspective of how it is done.

  79. Are you happy that there is a difference?
  (Mr Ray) I am happy that there is a difference, yes, because policing is about differences to meet the local needs.

Chairman

  80. This line of questioning is covered in paragraph 48 of volume 1 of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. Apparently the Scottish arrangements are more detailed but we can make copies. Thank you very much for coming. It has been very helpful. No doubt we will see you in due course. We would like to have 11 copies of the report. Any additional information on firearms would be welcome, and any invitation to come up to Wethersfield so that we can look at some of the things we have been talking about.
  (Mr Crowther) Guests are always welcome.


 
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