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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 7 December 2010
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr Aidan Burley
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Kevin Coles, Managing Director, Pro-Tect Systems, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: This is a one-off session of the Home Affairs Select Committee into Tasers. Could I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests, where the interests of all Members are noted? Are there any other interests that need to be declared formally?
Mark Reckless: I am a member of the Kent Police Authority.
Chair: Mr Reckless is a member of the Kent Police Authority.
Alun Michael: My son is the Chief Executive of the North Wales Police Authority.
Q2 Chair: Mr Michael’s son is the Chief Executive of the North Wales Police Authority.
Mr Coles, thank you for coming to give evidence to us today. I know you have your legal representative with you, but we will be directing questions to you.
Before I begin , may I make just a very short statement? This is an inquiry generally into the issue of Tasers. I would like to clarify that this evidence session is not regarding the death of Raoul Moat, although issues relating to it may well be the subject of questioning. The death of Mr Moat is currently the subject of an IPCC investigation. Prosecutions are ongoing against those alleged to have aided Mr Moat and, as such, must be considered sub judice. However, the preceding events that led to Tasers that were not authorised by the Home Office being given to Northumbria Police are not sub judice. As Northamptonshire Police have concluded their investigation into the conduct of Pro-Tect Systems Limited and have announced that they are not intending to prosecute, we may question witnesses about that. That is what we are interested in today.
Mr Coles, to start off with, if I could ask you: can you take us through the events of July of last year, when your company supplied these Tasers to a number of police authorities?
Kevin Coles: Well, the supplies, as far as we were concerned-and our legal representation had told us-we thought we were in order to supply. Presumably you’re just talking about the X12 and XREP Tasers. We were content that we could supply those to Lincolnshire Police, in the first instance, which is one of the instances. Also, with the case in July, when my business partner took it upon himself to come to the aid of Northumbria Police and take the units to them, we didn’t think there was anything wrong in the supply, but obviously the transport did become an issue and hence us losing our section 5 authority.
Q3 Chair: How many police forces did your company supply these Tasers to, because they were obviously unauthorised by the Home Office?
Kevin Coles: We were allowed to bring them into the country. We were allowed to hold them. We thought the original section 5 authority we had covered us for all Taser devices, and we had letters that reinforced that from the Americans that "Taser" is a generic word-not unlike "Hoover" for vacuum cleaners-that covers all sorts of devices within their scope. The only force that we had supplied was Lincolnshire Police so that the NPIA could show them to prospective firearms instructors. They were just for the purposes of seeing the emerging technology. That technology has been used successfully elsewhere in the world for 18 months, and it has been in development for six years or so. I myself have been wired into it-very effective, very safe and very accurate.
Q4 Chair: Which were the police forces that you supplied to?
Kevin Coles: Sorry. Lincolnshire Police and Northumbria Police.
Q5 Chair: As far as you are aware, was it only Northumbria that used these Tasers, or had Lincolnshire also used them?
Kevin Coles: The delivery was made to Northumbria Police by my business partner. When I questioned him about it afterwards-he’d had 32 years as a police officer; very experienced-he said to me that he had taken them to Northumbria Police and he quoted article 2 of the Human Rights Act. It was something that I wasn’t aware had taken place, so obviously I did ask him about it. Lincolnshire Police-it was just for the purposes for the NPIA to train, show and exhibit.
Q6 Chair: So as far as you are aware, Lincolnshire Police never used these Tasers?
Kevin Coles: Oh, no, they certainly didn’t use them.
Q7 Chair: Only Northumbria?
Kevin Coles: They were delivered to Northumbria. Lincolnshire Police didn’t use them. They were just for display purposes.
Q8 Chair: Yes. And would this request come by way of a letter, or would they send you an e-mail: "Please supply X number of Tasers"?
Kevin Coles: We’d have an official order come through, yes, in the normal way, with all the other Taser products-the cartridges and the X26. We would have an official order come through to the company.
Q9 Chair: And obviously your partner, Mr Boatman, committed suicide shortly after these events took place?
Kevin Coles: They haven’t come to a decision on his passing yet. It is still waiting on the inquest.
Chair: Right. Sorry.
Kevin Coles: It was widely reported in the media that way, which caused a lot of distress to the family, because there is some debate about that.
Q10 Chair: But you have now had your licence terminated by the Home Office.
Kevin Coles: Yes, we have.
Q11 Chair: Did that come as a surprise to you?
Kevin Coles: Yes, although once it was made clear that the delivery was in breach, obviously that was a sanction that the Secretary of State had. We’re very sorry that the delivery took place now, for obvious reasons, but I can fully understand why that sanction was put in place.
Q12 Chair: To be clear to the Committee, your contract has been terminated, but you are still authorised to deal with this in the interim?
Kevin Coles: In the interim.
Q13 Chair: Is there another company that is able to do this work?
Kevin Coles: We have a temporary authority to the end of December. By chance, our authority actually expired at the start of September at the end of a three-year authority, so we had a very short 20-day authority because the decision wasn’t announced. So we had a 20-day authority that we could still trade as normal.
Legal Advisor: Is there another company?
Chair: Sorry, it is important that, if you have anything to say to your client, you pass him a note rather than interrupt his evidence to the Committee.
Legal Advisor: I apologise. I was anxious that he answered your question. That was what I was asking him to do.
Q14 Chair: I see. Thank you for that. You are at liberty to pass him a note if you wish because the whole Committee would very much like to hear what he is saying.
One final question from me: on 31 December, when your temporary licence expires, who will be authorised to supply Tasers?
Kevin Coles: Taser International approached the Home Office. They’d found a new distributor for the UK. Obviously the Home Office then wanted to go through a number of investigations. Historically, they can take a month or two-it does take a bit of time to go through all the details. They have to do firearms licence and have to do inspections and I presume-
Q15 Chair: At the moment there is nobody who can take over?
Kevin Coles: No. They appointed a distributor, but then had to get a section 5 authority, and my understanding is that was granted on Friday last week. So there is a replacement company and a new section 5 distributor in place. I believe they have to get one or two things sorted out on security and stuff, but once those are in place, which is a very simple fix, there will then be a transition.
Q16 Mark Reckless: I think I may now be clear on this, but I thought you had said that you had taken advice and were supplying to Northumbria because of article 2, which I’d assumed was article 2 right to life in the ECHR?
Kevin Coles: That was what my business partner said. I’ve never been a police officer-I was more the business end and my business partner was our resident expert. Obviously I questioned it, because I did say to him basically, "Why didn’t you-" He went in the very early hours of the morning. He’d had a telephone conversation and he’d gone off in the early hours of the morning. I wasn’t aware that he’d gone until the following morning. I said, "Well, why didn’t you give me a shout?", and in truth I would have gone with him because I thought it was in order. As I say, we did have a pretty generic authority for all Taser devices. Obviously the delivery to Northumbria was a problem because it was one person, which is why, ultimately, I think the authority was taken away from us.
Q17 Mark Reckless: Mr Coles, just to clarify if you-or perhaps your legal advisor-are able, when you referred now to article 2, and that being the basis on which you supplied, we had assumed that would be a reference to article 2 of the ECHR?
Kevin Coles: It was. That was what my business partner said. I didn’t know the supply was going to take place, but when I said to him-
Q18 Mark Reckless: Mr Coles, if I could just interrupt. We have had a letter from one of the Ministers, Mr Brokenshire, which refers to article 2 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms. We just wondered whether the reference might be to that, or is it to the ECHR-or do you not know?
Kevin Coles: I thought it was Human Rights. Normally, in those circumstances, he would quote something to me and, in truth, I just took it that he knew what he was talking about and I sort of nodded. I thought it was to do with human rights and the right to life.
Q19 Dr Huppert: I am fascinated by your description that it was a very, very early trip. There is something that seems a bit odd about a rush delivery of weapons somewhere in the wee hours of the morning. But can I ask a bit more-
Kevin Coles: I can elaborate on that if you want.
Dr Huppert: Right, yes.
Kevin Coles: It was because he’d been in conversation and the situation was pretty unique-it was an emergency situation-and with him having been a police officer for 32 years and used to putting himself in harm’s way. With hindsight, it was definitely a rushed trip, but it was him wanting to help because he knew a technology was there that could save somebody’s life.
Q20 Dr Huppert: Presumably that means there is no way the people this was supplied to could have been trained in it? If it was a rush job it was, "Here’s a weapon; go and use it".
Kevin Coles: The launch platform is a shotgun and all firearms officers are very well acquainted with shotguns, and it is a very simplistic platform. It’s not unlike shooting an air rifle, because it has a very low primer and it has no recoil and not a lot of sound, and it is very accurate. It’s a very simple piece of equipment.
Q21 Dr Huppert: If we talk about the shotgun, yes, it is a very large shotgun. According to Taser International’s web page it "Autonomously generates neuromuscular incapacitation for 20 continuous seconds". So it is different from a shotgun. It is different from the existing Tasers, which give a shock only when the trigger is pulled. So are you saying that, although this is a completely different class of weapon, no training would be required for it to be used in an emergency basis, and this didn’t ring any alarms?
Kevin Coles: The shotgun is the launch platform. You could say it’s almost like a little satellite. The launch platform is the shotgun, but it’s not tethered; it’s not wired. It’s just, if they can use a shotgun, what type of projectile is inside it is almost an irrelevance. Because if they’re doing a breaching round or a solid slug, as long as they understand the principles of the shotgun, they can shoot it accurately.
Q22 Dr Huppert: Mr Coles, I am sure that they could hit the person they are trying to hit-that is not my concern. My concern is: would they be using this appropriately? Because they would have had no experience with something that gives a 20-second continuous shock. They would have no idea what the impact of that was, how lethal it might be or how much of a deterrent it might be.
Kevin Coles: It’s certainly not lethal. They’ve used it operationally elsewhere in the world. It’s been six years in development.
Q23 Dr Huppert: But people weren’t trained.
Kevin Coles: They would all have had training with shotguns and the technology, and my understanding from my business partner was that he did run the instructors through some slides, explained all the equipment, what its capabilities were and how it worked. Officers from Northumbria Police had been to a conference in America about 18 months prior and had witnessed the presentations and the training. Although they weren’t involved in the firearms section, they were well aware of the capabilities of the system.
Q24 Alun Michael: Sorry, I was thinking about that answer. Can you run us through the procurement situation as it stands at the moment? What is the system?
Kevin Coles: Prior to us being in a state where we can no longer import equipment from America, the system would be that we would have an e-mail or a letter come through the post for Tasers or cartridges to be delivered to the armoury, whichever police headquarters that might be.
Q25 Alun Michael: Can you go into a bit more depth? One of the issues here is that it is up to police authorities, or chief constables, what they authorise to use within the requirements of seeking to protect the public and all the rest of it. But there is an authorisation of specific technologies. How do you differentiate between those when you receive the sort of orders that you’ve described?
Kevin Coles: These two orders were obviously unique. In the past, the equipment has been the M26 in the first instance, starting back in about 2002 or 2003-or 2001, in the case of what was then PSDB. Also, incidentally, Lincolnshire Police were very early to support this type of technology.
Q26 Alun Michael: So, with the exception of these two orders, they were always of equipment that was authorised under the regulatory process?
Kevin Coles: For an M26 and X26, yes. In the early days, forces took on the equipment to evaluate, not for operation. They would be an evaluating force. There were about five forces. HOSDB-it was then PSDB-took it on as a project and then what they would do, historically, was to run handling trials, and obviously the medical and scientific trials at PSDB or HOSDB. It would then go out for very limited operational trials within a restricted number of forces. So I believe they’ve been looking at the technology in various forms now for nine years.
Q27 Alun Michael: In that sense, in advance of specific-what are described as less-lethal-weaponry being authorised through the regulations, there would have been that process of them being purchased and used by police forces within that.
Kevin Coles: Yes. Certainly I believe we had orders from, as I say, five: West Yorkshire Police, Northants Police. Actually, with Northants Police, I believe that their chief constable had got some Tasers in about 1999. They were looking at them as a concept. In the early days, there were about five forces involved and then it grew from there over time. But forces could certainly look at new technologies, and we were permitted to because our authority was open on Taser devices. They were the forces we dealt with.
Q28 Alun Michael: If there was an order for an item that wasn’t authorised-that had not been through that whole process-would that be a matter for you as the supplier, or a matter for the police who were ordering the item?
Kevin Coles: We wouldn’t have been able to bring them into the country if it wasn’t authorised at some level by somebody. You can’t just bring in technology and, because our section 5 authority is Tasers, we sometimes have to get some clarification to bring new Taser devices in. It’s more to do with import licensing, because they can look very different but they are still a Taser. In the past, we’ve had some clarification on whether it okay for us to bring in-
Q29 Alun Michael: From?
Kevin Coles: Normally from the Home Office, or it might be that HOSDB want to look at something because it’s a clarification thing. We always felt that we could bring them in on our licences-on our section 5 authority-but they do look very different, although in essence they are all Tasers.
Q30 Mark Reckless: I had a concern over reports that a bidding war among police forces was set off by the removal of your licence. I just wonder if I could clarify-particularly in September-the sequence of events and whether there was a period when your supply was exhausted but you still had a licence and, if so, whether you brought anything in in that period?
Kevin Coles: In truth, it probably came more to light in August. You need to apply for a new section 5 authority probably four weeks-possibly six weeks-in advance. Your registered firearms dealership is something you need to have in place first, because that expires at the same time. Historically, what you do is you apply for a new registered firearms dealership and they do all the inspections on security, and then you apply for your section 5 once that’s in order. As I say, we had this where it was due for renewal on 9 September. Obviously the events of July did make things a little difficult, because it caused a few delays, so we didn’t have an authority in place for us to bring in a lot of equipment from America.
Had we lost our authority in September, we could have been sitting on a lot of stock, so we had allowed our stock to run down. We did have orders coming in. We filled orders on first come, first served. Some forces, if they’re small forces, buy almost a year’s supply; others tend to stagger it. Certainly our impression was that the stock was going fairly swiftly. We did apply for another import licence, which we didn’t manage to get through, because it corresponded with us getting a one-month extension that only really spanned 20 days. It’s impractical to use an import licence to bring stuff in from America, and to distribute the equipment potentially before you’ve lost your authority. You’re talking about pretty catastrophic financial losses if you bring a lot of stuff in and you cannot distribute it.
As it happened, they wouldn’t grant us an import licence without checking with the Home Office, and we didn’t get an import licence anyway, so when we ran out of stock, we couldn’t use our short-term section 5 authority to import any more equipment. With the three-month one that we have to dispose of stock, we only have Tasers themselves in stock. We don’t have ammunition or cartridges, and that’s what everybody seems to need. So, potentially, we couldn’t supply from the end of August through to the end of December but for Taser International finding another distributor and the Home Office evaluating them in a pretty timely manner to get them in place.
Q31 Chair: Let us be clear on this: are there police forces at the moment that have the Tasers but do not have the cartridges?
Kevin Coles: They will have some. Certainly they have to look at their training programmes and we’ve been led to believe that-
Q32 Chair: Forget about training. The question was: are there some police forces that have the Tasers but do not have the cartridges?
Kevin Coles: I don’t believe so, but with the people you have here today, I’m sure they are better placed to know what the situation is.
Q33 Chair: But you have no cartridges left in stock on your shelves?
Kevin Coles: No, we haven’t had for a number of weeks.
Q34 Chair: What is going to happen on 31 December? Will you have any Tasers left?
Kevin Coles: They’ll either be surrendered to Northamptonshire Police, or it might be that they’re allowed to be transferred to the new distributor. That’s yet to be decided, but certainly-
Q35 Chair: Who will decide that?
Kevin Coles: The Home Office.
Q36 Chair: How many do you have in stock? Are these your Tasers? Have you paid for them?
Kevin Coles: Yes.
Kevin Coles: My understanding is-
Q38 Chair: You will sell them to the Home Office, will you , not give them to them?
Kevin Coles: No. Well, I would hope so. I have 272 in stock.
Q39 Chair: You have 272 T asers at the moment?
Kevin Coles: I have.
Q40 Chair: So i t is like a bargain sale to police authorities : you can sell by 31 December; two for the price of one?
Kevin Coles: We have looked at that possibility but, at the moment, because it’s the cartridges that they are most in need of, certainly the sales of Tasers themselves have somewhat dried up.
Q41 Chair: But at the end of the period, when your contract finishes, say you have 200 left, you will sell those to the Home Office?
Kevin Coles: I need to have the authority-instead of transferring to a police force-to transfer to the new distributor because then, obviously, that would save them from being crushed or whatever they are going to do with them?
Q42 Chair: They crush them if they can’t use them?
Kevin Coles: Some do. Whatever their policy is on destroying firearms, I would imagine.
Q43 Dr Huppert: I am still astonished by some of the responses that we have had through the session. You seem to have a remarkably cavalier attitude to the details of your trade. We have heard the term "Taser" might be general or might be specific. You were not quite clear about that. We have heard that you were not that clear on some of the rules that applied. You thought things were allowed, but possibly they were not. There was some article 2 thing-we’re not quite sure what it was about-and that was the reason for an early morning delivery. Do you agree with me that this doesn’t seem very professional? Have Taser International made any comments? Would this be the standard that we would expect to find of another firearms supplier?
Kevin Coles: In truth, my business partner would have been here today. He was our expert. I was more on the financial and business side, and he would have been able to answer your questions fully, I’m sure. So I apologise if I’ve appeared woolly or that I don’t quite know where you want me to focus on in my answers. But I am convinced-and also my legal representation looking at our authority-that our Taser authority was generic. We have a letter from Taser International saying the word "Taser" is generic and covers all the devices that they produce.
Q44 Chair: How do you feel your company has been treated?
Kevin Coles: Well, it has been a very, very difficult time. I have to accept that the transfer of the goods to Northumbria delivery was in breach of how we were supposed to deliver with two people. But, other than that, I have to say we felt as if we’ve been treated pretty shabbily. But the authority is drafted in such a way that at any time the Secretary of State can remove that authority if you are in breach. We are in breach. I suppose you do think that maybe it’s been a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but we are where we are and we have to accept that.
Q45 Chair: How many former police officers work for you company? You are not yourself a police officer?
Kevin Coles: No, no, never been a police officer.
Q46 Chair: Was your partner a-
Kevin Coles: He was a police officer for 32 years.
Q47 Chair: Which force?
Kevin Coles: With Northamptonshire. He held the Queen’s Police Medal and many bravery awards. He was a recognised use-of-force expert, and he travelled around the world lecturing and training on various aspects. As I say, he would have been uniquely placed to sit here before you and I can only apologise for not being able fill his shoes very well.
Chair: We understand, but we are very grateful to you. The Committee is very grateful to you for your time. Thank you for coming here and for your memorandum. It has been very helpful. Thank you very much.
Kevin Coles: Thank you.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Assistant Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, ACPO Lead, and Assistant Chief Constable Andy Adams, Kent Police, gave evidence.
Q48 Chair: Mr Chesterman and Mr Adams, thank you for coming. You have obviously heard the evidence that Mr Coles has just given . Is there anything you would like to say as a result of what you have just heard about the general rules governing the supply of Tasers? Mr Chesterman, you are the ACPO l ead?
Simon Chesterman : I am the ACPO lead, yes.
I think the thing that is important to point out is that there are very strict rules governing the procurement of Tasers in this country. A Home Office code of practice clearly covers the rules around what we can and can’t do. We have a very stringent testing regime with the Home Office Scientific Development Branch. Also, there is a body called DOMILL-the Defence Scientific Advisory Council’s Sub-committee on the Medical Implications of Less-lethal Weapons, who advise the Government on the safety of these articles. So anything that is used by police forces must be covered by the code of practice, and must be tested by HOSDB and approved through that process.
Q49 Chair: We don’t have Northumbria here today and we don’t have Lincolnshire here today, so hopefully, in a sense, you will be able to answer some questions about the police side of this. Is there a problem at the moment in procuring Tasers? Does every police force have sufficient numbers of Tasers?
Simon Chesterman : When the section 5 authority was removed from Pro-Tect, my office did an audit nationally to find out what sort of stocks were out there and to see at what point we were going to start running low. I think it is important to understand that for the actual body of the Taser itself-the X26-there are plenty of those in the possession of police forces across the United Kingdom. But, of course, the cartridges are consumables, and they will be consumed when officers are trained and reaccredited, because officers that are trained to use Taser have to be reaccredited every year, which means they will have to fire cartridges during the process of that reaccreditation. So the audit showed that eventually, obviously, we were going to run out, and we had probably about a three-month period within which we would use-
Q50 Chair: Run out of Tasers or cartridges?
Simon Chesterman : Run out of cartridges.
Q51 Chair: Right. When will we run out of cartridges?
Simon Chesterman : Probably early in the new year would be the issue. Different forces are clearly in different positions, because some have better stocks than others, but we do know that within the next six months we are going to need something like 22,000 live cartridges and about 23,500 training cartridges to keep things going and to keep Taser in the hands of the officers that are trained to use it.
Q52 Chair: In the last Parliament, members of the Committee looked at a Taser demonstration and the amount of training that goes in. But it appears you are going to have quite a severe shortage of cartridges.
Simon Chesterman : There is certainly the potential for that, yes. As I say, the audit revealed that some forces had lower stocks than others, and we were in a position of putting come contingencies in place to make sure that if a force ran out we could supplement them from somewhere else.
Q53 Chair: When you say "we", who is "we"? ACPO?
Simon Chesterman : Yes, ACPO; myself as the ACPO lead.
Q54 Chair: You, as the ACPO lead-I thought it was a policy lead-are able to ring up Leicestershire and say, "You only have 10 cartridges left" and then ring up Northamptonshire and say, "Give Leicestershire 100 cartridges"?
Simon Chesterman : Well, we can ask and, as I said, it was quite clear that some forces had greater stocks than others. It didn’t come to that, but one of the contingencies would have been to contact forces with greater stocks and say, "There is a critical need in another part of the country, are you prepared to ship some stock across to them?" It didn’t come to that in the end, but there was real potential for that.
Q55 Chair: What will you do about this shortage? We come to a situation now where Pro-Tect will come to the end of its contract on 31 December. At the moment they have 272 Tasers in stock. Mr Coles is obviously going to try and get rid of them in whatever way he can-sell them off to various forces. What is going to happen to the Tasers that are left on his shelves?
Simon Chesterman : Clearly I think that is a commercial decision between Mr Coles and the new company that has been granted the licence.
Q56 Chair: Because he seems to think the Home Office is involved in this.
Simon Chesterman : That is clearly something you will have to ask the Home Office officials who are present here today, but I mean clearly he-
Q57 Chair: But ACPO doesn’t have a view on this, because they normally have a view on everything?
Simon Chesterman : No, we don’t have a view on this. Clearly there is some stock there that I am sure Mr Coles would be keen to get rid of.
Q58 Chair: Do you have a thought as to what might happen to these 272 extra Tasers?
Simon Chesterman : In my opinion-if you ask my opinion-these Tasers could be transferred across to the new company or they could be procured by the Home Office on behalf of the Police Service, so that we can use them. The requirement for the new X26-the actual body of the X26-is clearly a lot less than the consumables.
Chair: I think Mr Reckless is eager to answer a question on this.
Q59 Mark Reckless: Mr Chesterman, in my role as a member of the Kent Police Authority, which I declared earlier, members of the senior team at the force raised issues about the Taser with me, and the monopoly supply and difficulty of getting hold of appropriate cartridges particularly, as we’ve heard. As the Home Affairs Committee, we’re looking at this, because we understood it was a responsibility of the Home Office. On what basis have ACPO been dealing with this? I don’t understand.
Simon Chesterman : Sorry, I might have misled you. I am saying that when we knew that the Home Office had removed the licence, we conducted an audit to see what stocks were out there, because clearly we were very keen to make sure that if individual forces ran low, we could invoke a contingency to make sure that we spread the stocks across the country. That is something that I took responsibility for, as the ACPO lead, to make sure we did not run out. Clearly I was working very closely with the Home Office-in regular contact while we were doing that.
Q60 Mark Reckless: Who gave ACPO responsibility to check around the country and start transferring stocks of Tasers from one force to the other?
Simon Chesterman : Okay. The Home Office is the short answer. We were asked to conduct the audit, which we did. The reason we were asked to do it was that because my office also leads on firearms, we have a very good network of contacts among the individual forces-their firearms leads. So I was able very quickly, through a national circular, to find out the information that the Home Office required.
Q61 Mark Reckless: Who asked you at the Home Office and when did this happen? Assuming it’s in writing, can this Committee have a copy of that instruction to you, please?
Simon Chesterman : Yes, clearly I have an audit trail that says that the audit is required, so clearly I could provide that to you-that wouldn’t be a problem-but it didn’t come to redistribution of the cartridges. It was purely an audit to find out where the stocks were and, if it had become critical, clearly we would have worked with the Home Office to assist in the redistribution of cartridges, if that was indeed the requirement.
Q62 Dr Huppert: I have found this session fascinating; every answer raises many, many more questions. Before I get onto my main question, I am still stunned you need 22,000 live Taser cartridges in the next few months.
Simon Chesterman : The next six months, yes.
Q63 Dr Huppert: Are there 22,000 firings you’re expecting?
Simon Chesterman : No, that is not the case. What happens is that each individual Taser officer-there are probably about 10,000 officers in the country now who are trained in the use of Taser-obviously has to go through their initial training, which takes 18 hours, and then they are reaccredited for six hours on an annual basis. In each reaccreditation, the national recommendation is that they discharge a minimum of 10 cartridges.
Q64 Dr Huppert: But those are presumably training cartridges, because you spoke about 23,000 training cartridges as well.
Simon Chesterman : Yes, but they also have to demonstrate competence in using live cartridges, because there is some difference between the discharging of the two cartridges.
Q65 Dr Huppert: Okay. I am still fascinated, but I will move on to what I was going to ask.
First, Cambridgeshire County Council, my own local police authority, currently has 150 unwanted Tasers that were given by the Home Office to an authority that simply did not want, on principle, to give Tasers to non-firearms trained officers. If people are looking for Tasers, I believe Cambridgeshire has some spare that are sitting in a cupboard somewhere.
On a slightly broader issue, we have had in this Committee a number of discussions about operational decisions and who makes them. In the new world that we ’ re going to have with police and crime commissioners, or even in the current one with police authorities versus a chief constable, whose decision ought it to be about whether to deploy Tasers to non-firearms trained police officers and to use Tasers ? Where does all of that fit in to operational independence?
Simon Chesterman : From my own perspective, as the ACPO lead, I think that much in the use of Taser depends on demographics. It depends on whether you are a small urban environment or a large sprawling rural environment-that kind of thing. There are a number of dependables that people will need to take into consideration. But, to answer your question, I believe this is an operational matter for the chief constable.
Q66 Dr Huppert: You do not think a commissioner or a police authority would have the ability to say, "We believe that people who have not been trained to use firearms should not be using Tasers"?
Simon Chesterman : You’re asking my personal opinion. I believe it is an operational decision for the chief constable.
Alun Michael: Just before we go onto other questions can I be-
Q67 Chair: Just one second. Mr Adams, if you wish to chip in, please feel free to do so. Don’t feel you are just here for decorative purposes.
Andy Adams : Thank you. I was being very polite and waiting for you to ask me a question. May I just extend the answer given in response to your question, Dr Huppert?
The operational decision to extend to non-firearms officers is obviously a decision that is made by the chief constable. In our own force, when we did that, we went through an exercise of doing public consultation to understand whether the public supported the extension. Because the extension involved the implementation with additional finance, it was routed though the police authority as well. We have just done a post-implementation review on that, which the police authority sanctioned and reviewed, so there is an operational element to that, but also a scrutiny element that is exercised by the police authority.
Q68 Mr Burley: Can I ask a follow up question, in terms of going out to consultation with the public and then the police authority having a final say on it? In 18 months’ time, in the new world of police and crime commissioners, would you see it as their democratic mandate, if they have been elected on a platform involving, for example, saying that no untrained firearms officer should carry a Taser that, on 7 May 2012 they are entitled to tell the chief constable that they have a mandate democratically to overrule him if, for example, he has decided that non-trained officers could carry Tasers?
Andy Adams : I think my answer to that would be that, under the present arrangements, we went to consultation with the public; we explained the rationale to the police authority; the decision was made by the chief constable and explained to the police authority, and the police authority have exercised scrutiny. I’m not in a position to answer the question around what the future might look like and the responsibility of the commissioner against the chief constable. But certainly there is an operational decision here which, as my colleague has said, was made by the chief constable.
Q69 Mr Burley: But you can understand the scenario. If the general public in an area are worried about non-firearm trained officers carrying Tasers in their police force, and a member of the public-who might be sat behind you now-decides to stand to be the police and crime commissioner in that area, and part of their leaflets and their manifesto is that they will fight to stop that happening, you can see where the conflict potentially comes in-
Chair: Mr Burley, I believe you had a quick question.
Mr Burley: Yes. Do you think that they have that right?
Andy Adams : In answer to your question, 88% of the people that we spoke to agreed that Taser was a useful way to dissuade potentially violent people from being violent, and 83% agreed that Taser improves officer and public safety. We had a clear mandate from the public to extend to non-firearms officers.
Chair: My apologies to you, Mr Michael. My intervention has caused this little sideshow.
Alun Michael: You stimulate excitement wherever you go, Chair.
Chair: The floor is yours.
Q70 Alun Michael: Before going forward, can I just go back to one element? Mr Chesterman referred to the careful control of these items but, as we heard earlier, the Taser company itself seems to be a little less specific, referring generically to items. The problem seems to be in the supply of the X12, with extra cartridges. Is there clarity about what is supplied and used by police forces now? I take it that there wasn’t some time ago, but is it all clear now as to what is authorised, and what is not authorised but can be used at the discretion of the chief constable, as I understand it?
Simon Chesterman : Yes, my belief is we have made it as clear as possible. Mr Coles is absolutely right that "Taser" is a generic term that describes a range of products, but the actual authority-the approval from HOSDB, DOMILL and the Home Office, covered by the Home Office code-is for the X26.
Q71 Alun Michael: Yes, but looking forward, will it be absolutely clear that authorisation, under the regulatory system, is specific to specific pieces of kit and others would fall out of that? Although of course, as I understand it, there is the discretion of chief constables to authorise items even if they haven’t been through that process. Is that all clear now?
Simon Chesterman : Yes, it is, and my belief is that it’s been clear for some time.
Q72 Alun Michael: Could you take us now to the use of Tasers and the training of officers who are authorised to use them? Can you explain precisely what the current requirements and authorisation are for the carrying of Tasers?
Simon Chesterman : Yes. Okay. Clearly the Tasers are carried by two groups of people: either people who are already authorised firearms officers, who carry Taser as a less-lethal option in the same way that they would carry things like the attenuated energy projectile, which is otherwise known as a baton round. So they are trained, alongside their firearms duties, to carry Taser as a less-lethal option so they don’t need to have recourse to lethal force. Also, the guidelines allow officers and specially trained units to carry Tasers as well, if they have completed the training.
Q73 Alun Michael: Specially trained units?
Simon Chesterman: Yes, STUs.
Q74 Alun Michael: Is that trained on firearms or not on firearms?
Simon Chesterman: No, they’re not firearms officers. These are officers who are not firearms officers but form part of specially trained units and who are eligible, through their training and accreditation, to carry Tasers. As I said earlier, they would receive an initial 18 hours’ training, and they’re reaccredited annually, where they have to have at least six hours contact on the training.
Q75 Dr Huppert: As ever, there are more questions, but I will stick to one in particular. In October last year, Taser International issued a training bulletin-I think Training Bulletin 15-which advised avoiding chest shots and that that advice should go out. Was that advice given to all UK police officers, because I haven’t been able to find an update to the ACPO operational guidance that incorporates that?
Simon Chesterman: Yes. That guidance was given out in relation to one specific case in the United States involving a lad called Robert Mitchell, who tragically died after a Taser discharge. It’s the only case that I can find internationally where the autopsy report tends to indicate that one of the contributory factors of death was the conducted energy device. It turned out that Robert Mitchell had an underlying heart defect. Taser did put out some advice. We received that advice, and it all relates to point of aim.
In this country the recommended point of aim is the central body mass, which clearly is the chest area. In the United States, they were considering lowering the point of aim to avoid the chest area. We referred that to our medical experts. As I said earlier, we have the Defence Scientific Advisory Sub-committee on the Medical Implications of Less-lethal Weapons. It has been referred to them and the advice to date is that we don’t need to alter the point of aim in this country, so nothing has been put out to police forces. We do put out regular advice in relation to recommendations from DOMILL, such as caution in relation to use of Taser against children and persons of small stature, but to date we have not changed the point of aim.
Q76 Bridget Phillipson: Could you explain the process by which an officer would be deployed to use a Taser-the process by which it would be determined that a Taser could be used or would be appropriate in those circumstances?
Simon Chesterman: Certainly. There is no hierarchical use of force, so it’s not a matter of facing violence and trying various different levels of defending yourself until you work your way up to Taser. Officers are trained extensively in something we call "the conflict management model", which is a decision-making model, and they will use the most appropriate means with which to protect the public or themselves. If that happens to be Taser and they’re carrying Taser, they don’t have to try a baton first or some other method. Clearly they will try and de-escalate the situation, but they could ultimately go straight to Taser.
Taser is preauthorised by a firearms commander, so the control room inspector, for example, in sending officers to an incident might say Taser is authorised because there are reports of people with a machete or something like that, so they might authorise Taser on the way. But equally, if an officer is carrying Taser and they’re confronted with a violent situation, they can self-authorise. They have to complete paperwork afterwards. There is a very detailed audit trail in terms of their justification for the use, which has to be centrally collated, and we look at all the statistics.
Q77 Bridget Phillipson: If a non-Taser carrying officer attended a scene, how would they determine that a Taser could be used and how would they call for the use of a Taser in that situation?
Simon Chesterman: For a start, if the incident was such that the person despatching the officers felt that Taser should be deployed to the scene-as I said earlier, if it was a report of somebody with a machete, for example-there is every chance that they would deploy Taser officers in the first instance, even if it’s just to back up the non-Taser officers. If non-Taser officers found themselves at an incident that they felt required that level of protection, they would clearly call for it over the radio and officers would be despatched to support them.
Q78 Mr Winnick: Mr Chesterman, there is a great deal of controversy at the moment over the policing of public demonstrations. How far do you feel that Tasers should be used in any circumstances in such demonstrations?
Simon Chesterman: To give you a straight answer, I don’t think it should. The national guidance is that Taser should not be used in relation to public demonstrations. It’s not a pain compliance tool. It’s clearly to be used by officers who are facing severe violence from an individual or individuals. In terms of making people comply with instructions, it’s not for that, it’s not a pain compliance tool. The other thing is you have to remember that the Taser will discharge barbs connected to cables, and if you’re firing it into a crowd, you don’t know where they’re going to go and you can’t retrieve them afterwards, and for us it’s a big no-no.
Q79 Mr Winnick: So we can work on the reasonable assumption that in the current climate of public protest-the students and others-there will be no question of Tasers being used?
Simon Chesterman: I would say no, there shouldn’t be a question of Tasers being used.
Q80 Mr Winnick: You say, "No, there shouldn’t be", so presumably you can’t give a firm commitment?
Simon Chesterman: I can, sir. In general terms, I can give a firm commitment, but of course there could be circumstances under which perhaps an officer becomes isolated and is facing such severe violence and personal attack if they have a Taser with them they might use it, and clearly that would be heavily scrutinised afterwards. But the ACPO guidance at the moment is that Taser is not an appropriate tool to be used in relation to public protest.
Q81 Mr Winnick: I welcome what you’ve just said. I take it that there are circumstances where you clearly feel that Tasers are an appropriate weapon?
Simon Chesterman: I think that Taser is not necessarily a safe option. It is less injurious than many other methods of restraining a violent individual. It has been proved to be very successful and has the cautious support of bodies such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who sit on the Taser Working Group alongside me. It is a good tool in terms of protecting the public and protecting our officers.
Q82 Mr Winnick: Another colleague will be asking you a question about safety, but would I be right in coming to the conclusion that the police view is that Taser should be used only in very extreme circumstances?
Simon Chesterman: The guidance is that Taser should only be used by an officer who is facing violence of such severity that they need to protect themselves, and clearly they will use the conflict management model to make a decision as to the most appropriate level of force to be used.
Q83 Chair: You have not fired a Taser yourself, Mr Chesterman.
Simon Chesterman: Not at somebody, no. At a target I have, yes.
Q84 Chair: But have you been trained to use a Taser?
Simon Chesterman: I haven’t been trained, no. I have discharged a Taser at a target though.
Q85 Chair: What about you, Mr Adams?
Andy Adams: I haven’t, no.
Q86 Chair: It may be a bit odd that sometimes the order is given to use a Taser by senior officers who have never used them themselves.
Andy Adams: I think the important aspect of this, Chair, is that every officer who is deployed with a Taser is trained and has to go through a training regime. They have to justify their actions and, as I say, their actions have to be justified and proportionate to the level of threat that they face.
Q87 Chair: I understand that; that’s not my question, though, Mr Adams. My question is that it may be a senior officer who says, "Fire the Taser," not the officer concerned, and that senior officer may never have been trained to use one. That’s my question.
Andy Adams: The decision around firing a Taser is obviously with the officer at the time and they have to justify the use of it.
Q88 Chair: Just them? They make the decision?
Andy Adams: The level of scrutiny around this is that-as my colleague says-every time they use force they have to fill out a form; the form is subject to scrutiny. In our own force, when a Taser is discharged and used, our professional standards department reviews that and makes sure that it is proportionate.
Q89 Chair: Sure, but that is all after the event, isn’t it? You fill in the form not while you’re about to fire the Taser; you fill in the form afterwards. My question is: senior officers, who may be in a situation where an officer fires a Taser, have not themselves been trained to use the Taser. That was the question. The answer must be yes.
Andy Adams: In my circumstances, that is true, but the officers have been.
Chair: Yes, sure. That bit I understand.
Q90 Dr Huppert: Just following on from that scrutiny question, Chair, I understand that the Home Office Scientific Development Branch has evaluated a Taser-cam, which would record every use of a Taser, and it seemed to be quite positive. It said the images were of usable quality. Why isn’t this in routine use in the UK to provide protection-for people when there might be a question about why they were shot, and also for the police officers who fired them?
Simon Chesterman: It’s certainly something that is under active consideration, because clearly any protection we can give officers in the post-incident inquiry is important if it’s open and transparent. I think one of the issues with it is that the Taser-cam is only activated at the immediate point just before the Taser is activated. So, in terms of the officer’s justification for discharging the Taser, there may have been quite a build-up before that and all you’re going to get on the camera is somebody being Tasered and not necessarily the justification for that.
Q91 Steve McCabe: I wanted to go quickly back to Mr Winnick’s point about demonstrations. The ACPO guidance is that Tasers shouldn’t be used at demonstrations. Why does the guidance not also say that officers policing demonstrations shouldn’t be carrying Tasers, because you did allude to the possible risk of this happening?
Simon Chesterman: Yes. Effectively, officers policing demonstrations shouldn’t be carrying Tasers.
Q92 Steve McCabe: But why doesn’t the guidance say that so that there can’t be any doubt? If the ACPO view is you can’t use them at a demonstration, surely you should eliminate the risk of that happening.
Simon Chesterman: Part of it is because sometimes, in policing a demonstration, you can end up with officers engaged with the crowd who are not part of policing that demonstration. I saw it for myself a couple of weeks ago in the student demonstrations where there were clearly officers allocated to police that demonstration but other officers were being called to provide support. The officers who are allocated to police the demonstration should not be carrying Taser, because it’s not an appropriate use, but you could find officers attending the scene of public disorder who are carrying it. So it’s quite a-
Q93 Steve McCabe: So you can’t rule out the risk? Despite what you said to Mr Winnick, you can’t rule out the risk of it being used against students?
Simon Chesterman: No, of course I can’t totally rule that out. It would depend on the circumstances. If it was used, that would have to be very carefully scrutinised and justification would have to be explained afterwards.
Q94 Chair: And the forms to be filled in.
Simon Chesterman: The all important forms.
Q95 Mark Reckless: Mr Adams was appointed by, and is held to account by, the Kent Police Authority. Mr Chesterman, how were you selected for your lead role and who holds you to account for that?
Simon Chesterman: I was selected by the ACPO lead on uniform operations and the ACPO lead on police use of firearms. Effectively, what happens within ACPO is that expressions of interest are sought and you apply to take up the lead of a particular business area, and then you’re chosen by the chief constables who lead on these particular areas.
Q96 Mark Reckless: Is there any reporting back to the Home Office or police authorities?
Simon Chesterman: Sorry, in what context?
Mark Reckless: As to who holds what role and how they exercise it.
Simon Chesterman: I believe so, yes. I’m also the ACPO lead on police use of firearms-that is widely known-and I report through the ACPO business area reporting mechanism.
Q97 Chair: On the issue of the safety of Tasers, are you both aware of the case in France on 30 November where a man was shot with a Taser and subsequently died?
Simon Chesterman: Not specifically, no. I’m aware of cases like that, yes.
Q98 Chair: On 30 November, the BBC reported that an immigrant from Mali died after the French police shot him twice with a Taser gun. He was also tear-gassed and struck with a baton at the same time-we don’t know whether before or after he was Tasered. The exact cause of death wasn’t noted, despite all that. There was another case in Australia at the end of October. In fact, research was conducted by the Australian police about the use of Taser guns against people with mental illness, and the report stated that it had been disproportionately used against those with mental illnesses: 85% of the 83 incidents when the Victoria force used Tasers involved people with a mental illness. Are you aware of what is happening in other parts of the world, because I’m surprised you didn’t know about this shooting in France?
Simon Chesterman: Yes. We do receive reports from abroad in relation to specific cases. We do carefully examine them, and I know that HOSDB, in particular, are linked into their equivalents in these different countries. So, in terms of the medical implications and the safety of Taser, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch are very well connected with that.
Q99 Chair: I understand that, but these are two very important things: the study in Australia, and the death in France, which happened only 12 days ago. Should there not be a method by which this information comes to you, since you have such a pivotal role in all this?
Simon Chesterman: Yes. As I say, initially it would go to the Home Office Scientific Development Branch. They sit on the working group as well. They also sit on the DOMILL working group. Clearly, if there were implications for the UK-like the Robert Mitchell case that I mentioned earlier on with point of aim-I would be made aware as the Taser lead.
Q100 Chair: But you’re talking about working parties here. This is something that occurred 12 days ago and a report that happened at the end of October, which is quite important, and you appear to be unaware of them. This is not any fault of your own, of course, but maybe the information systems aren’t getting to you quickly enough and there are too many working parties on all this.
Andy Adams: I’m not aware of the French case but certainly the Australian information I am aware of. I know there are a number of recommendations contained within that report.
Q101 Chair: Are there any that are relevant for us?
Andy Adams: I support what Mr Chesterman is saying that when this information comes out, we do look at it and scrutinise it. If I’m right in saying, one of the Australian recommendations is that they should look at the way the ACPO report form is used and that there should be transparency around the way that they are using Taser. I think you will find from the experience-certainly the experience that I have in Kent-that both the reporting mechanisms and the transparency around the way we use Taser fits the criteria of those recommendations. I know from Mr Chesterman’s perspective, as the ACPO lead in this area, that we are regularly looking at these articles and the material and recommendations from them, and I know that the Home Office are. I wasn’t aware of the French case.
Q102 Chair: That’s very helpful, but does it concern you that this detailed study-a five-year study-shows that 85% of the cases involved someone with a mental illness?
Andy Adams: I think what is important out of that study is that we look at it in the context of UK policing and the way that we use our Tasers. I have no doubt that is something the Home Office will be doing to see if there are any lessons from the Victoria police experience and, equally, if there is any experience that we can share with them that will assist them in their work.
Q103 Chair: Yes, of course, but you know of no studies that we’re conducting? Is no research going on here?
Simon Chesterman: We research just about every case in that because the forms are filled in-they come in centrally to the Home Office-we look for patterns. For example, if there were patterns with regard to mental health, persons of small stature or use against juveniles-that kind of thing-we would pick that up.
Q104 Chair: But as far as you’re aware, Mr Chesterman-you’re obviously the authority on this-do you know of any Home Office research similar to that in Australia or other countries that look at particular incidents and try to get a pattern where there is a report and we can understand better the use-
Simon Chesterman: That is an ongoing process and, as I say, the-
Q105 Chair: You don’t know of a particular report? We understand ongoing processes.
Andy Adams: No, not a specific-yes.
Q106 Mr Winnick: There was a report by Amnesty International about the situation in the United States where Tasers were used. Are you familiar with that report at all?
Simon Chesterman: Yes.
Q107 Mr Winnick: It did state that there 50 deaths in the United States linked to the police use of Tasers. Two of the risks identified by Amnesty are multiple or prolonged shocks, and strikes to the chest. Is that more or less accepted by you and your colleagues as being accurate?
Simon Chesterman: It is. That’s a totally different policing context, in that across the United States, Taser is effectively given to all officers. The problem that the States have compared with us is that we have an ACPO lead and an overarching national policy on this, and we control it very tightly. Because there are something like 16,000 different policing organisations across the United States, their overarching policy is not as stringent and as tight as ours. I am aware of the Amnesty report. I’m also aware that Amnesty cautiously supports the way in which the UK police use and deploy Taser. Clearly it has some concerns about Taser, but it holds us up internationally as a model of best practice, in terms of our policies and procedures, and the tight control that we keep on this device in this country.
Q108 Mr Winnick: Perhaps we will look at that report, Chair. But coming back to Britain, does the case of Mr Brian Loan in October 2006 ring a bell with you?
Simon Chesterman: Not off the top of my head, no.
Q109 Mr Winnick: He was Tasered and shot with a baton by Durham police during a siege at his home-I don’t know the circumstances other than what I’ve just said. He was arrested, charged and bailed, and died three days afterwards. The coroner ruled death by natural causes, but the family maintain, rightly or wrongly, that the use of Tasers contributed to his death, but you’re not aware of that case.
Simon Chesterman: I’m not, no. Clearly the safety aspect of this is absolutely paramount, and the risks associated with Taser. As I say, the guidance that we’ve put out relates to persons of small stature and children, but also there is a risk of secondary injury from falling, and we’re aware that the effects of neuromuscular incapacitation can cause somebody to fall to the ground. If they do, they could bump their head, so the guidance is very strong on that as well.
Q110 Dr Huppert: On the subject of reports, as I’m sure you know, two years ago, when the Home Office announced that Tasers would be rolled out, it said there was an ACPO trial evaluation report that had happened before. That doesn’t seem to be freely available anywhere. One of my constituents has been trying to get it through freedom of information. As you know, ACPO is extremely resistant to the idea of freedom of information. Will you be prepared to release that report, both to this Committee and more broadly, as well as any other reports that you’ve done? I think that would help with some of the Chair’s questions as well.
Simon Chesterman: I think that’s a question you must ask the Home Office because clearly they were-
Q111 Dr Huppert: But it’s an ACPO report.
Simon Chesterman: I believe that the evaluations of the trials were carried out by the Home Office.
Chair: We will ask the Home Secretary next week.
Q112 Dr Huppert: If it is ACPO’s, you’ll be happy to release it?
Simon Chesterman: I haven’t said that. I’m not sure what GPMS markings are on it or anything, to be honest with you. I will obviously consider it, yes.
Chair: We don’t want to speculate on the markings on this report. Dr Huppert, we will ask the Home Secretary when she comes in next week.
Q113 Mr Burley: Just a final question. If you go back to the world before Tasers, is it the case, in any of these examples we’ve been discussing this morning, that where they’ve been used, the only alternative would have been for that person to have been shot with a gun? What would have happened before the police had Tasers? I think this sort of goes to the heart of the matter. There are obviously health risks, and they may be dangerous for people who have a heart condition or fall over or whatever, but is that ultimately better than the alternative, which would have been that they would have been shot with a live round?
Simon Chesterman: I can say quite clearly, unfortunately, that yes, that would be the case. I spent many hours talking to the parents of a young man who was shot by police within the last year who wished that we’d had Taser. He was armed with a samurai sword and was shot by firearms officers, and the parents were very supportive of Taser.
Q114 Mr Burley: This is ultimately about avoiding having to use a lethal force?
Simon Chesterman: That’s what it’s all about, yes.
Chair: Mr Chesterton and Mr Adams, thank you so much for coming in to give evidence today. Your evidence has been very helpful. We’re not planning to publish the report imminently, so if there is information, based on anything that we’ve asked you today, that you feel would be helpful, please do let us have it. Thank you very much for coming.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Christian Papaleontiou, Policing Directorate, Home Officer, Graham Widdecombe, Policing Directorate, Home Office, and Graham Smith, Home Office Scientific Development Branch, gave evidence.
Q115 Chair: Mr Papaleontiou, apologies first of all to you for my mispronounciation of your name. Perhaps you can give me-
Christian Papaleontiou: It was a good effort. Christian Papaleontiou.
Chair: Papaleontiou, excellent. I think we’re familiar with Widdecombe and Smith from Strictly Come Dancing.
You’ve heard the evidence so far. Obviously there are policy issues that are for politicians and not for yourselves, but as I and members ask questions, if any of you want to chip in-we won’t direct them specifically at any of you-please feel free to do so. Apart from Dr Huppert, who has just left the room, I think none of us claim to be experts in science, so you have us at the start. You may have to explain, in precisely more detail, exactly what you mean.
Let me start by asking about the testing that goes on on these weapons, especially in view of some of the questions we’ve asked about what has happened in France and Australia and elsewhere. What kind of testing is involved in this area of science?
Graham Smith: HOSDB work closely with the police. Any testing we do obviously needs to result in something that the police use. So the first step that we take is to establish what the operational requirement is-what the police want any piece of equipment to do. Then the first step in the process that we look around in the marketplace at what is out there, and find and identify items that may meet that requirement. Then we start doing some physical testing, looking at the various aspects of the requirement-first of all, the easiest ones to do, obviously-to see whether that piece of equipment meets the requirement. One of the things with less-lethal, for instance, is accuracy. If it’s not accurate, first of all, it’s not going to hit the target and do what you want; and, secondly, you don’t necessarily know what the medical effects may be because it may hit a part of the body that you’re not aiming at. So accuracy is paramount.
Following the physical testing, a medical assessment will take place. Medical assessment looks at any operational uses around the world and any other studies that have been done around the world. That is then assessed by an independent team of clinicians who sit under the Defence Scientific Advisory Council. They will then identify whether there is enough information to comment on the medical implications of the use of the particular technology. If there isn’t, they may recommend work to be done.
In parallel with the work we do on assessing the basic characteristics of particular weapons, the police will also be putting together guidelines for use. So, if something looks promising, we would need to know how the police intend to use it. That’s a little bit of a chicken and egg thing. They need to know how the weapon works before they put the guidelines together, but the guidelines are also very important in the medical assessment, because if the medics don’t know how the piece of equipment is going to be used they can’t necessarily comment on the medical implications. So they go hand in hand.
Q116 Chair: Yes. We will come and explore some of that. We mentioned a number of cases: Mr Winnick mentioned the Amnesty International study and I mentioned the case of the gentleman from Mali who was shot in France and died. Are you familiar with this case?
Graham Smith: Yes.
Chair: So, you would get to know about this pretty soon? When you hear the word "Taser", there will be a Google alert across your screen?
Graham Smith: There is a Google alert on my machine and also, because HOSDB doesn’t have medical expertise, we work very closely with the DSTL-Defence Science and Technology Laboratories. They also do a constant screening of cases around the world.
Q117 Chair: So to follow a practical example for the non-scientists-as I said, Dr Huppert is our resident scientist-you would hear about this. The BBC would report, "Use of Taser, Man Dies"; Google alert on your screen. Would you then check whether it’s the same Taser? Was it the same Taser as the Tasers we use in this country?
Graham Smith: I’m not sure yet. I have a colleague who is in Paris at the moment, so I’ve asked him to find out all he can about the case. Obviously the press reporting isn’t as detailed as we could perhaps get from our contacts in other police forces. We try and find out as much information as we can. That information is then passed to DSTL to collate. If they feel it’s important enough, they will immediately flag it to the DOMILL committee, which could then put together some quick advice that could then be fed into the police guidelines quite quickly, to answer the question you were asking Mr Chesterman.
Q118 Chair: We don’t have 43 police forces with 43 different types of Taser? There is only one Taser in use in the UK?
Graham Smith: There is only one Taser; there is only one cartridge. The specification of that Taser and cartridge is also carefully controlled to ensure that if any changes are made, we know what the implications of those changes are.
Q119 Chair: Yes. You said you go to the market, but you don’t turn up in some market in North Africa or somewhere like that. You go on to the internet and you buy your Tasers, do you? When you say "the market", what do you mean by "the market"? Is there a kind of convention?
Mr Winnick: Marks and Spencer?
Chair: Where do you buy them from?
Graham Smith: When we first looked at electrical incapacitants, which were fast-tracked against the ACPO operational requirement in 2001, we did a trawl of all the companies around the world that were selling electrical incapacitation devices, of which Taser International was one-at that time there were three others. So that is how we found possible contenders for the ACPO operational requirement. We do a search of the internet, a search of the marketplace. Also, through out contacts through conferences in other countries, we know what other countries are using. Often what other countries are using will inform us from a medical and an operational effectiveness perspective as well.
Q120 Chair: So you would have signed off the original authorisation for Pro-Tect?
Graham Smith: No.
Q121 Chair: You would have nothing to do with choosing the company?
Graham Smith: No. All HOSDB does is purchase equipment for assessment. We don’t grant licences.
Q122 Chair: You have nothing to do with that?
Graham Smith: No.
Q123 Alun Michael: I’m aware of the interplay between police and their requirements, and ACPO and the authorisation. In fact, the first engagement I had with this was with an over-enthusiastic effort in the Superintendents Association to promote pepper spray, which led to a bit of a PR disaster and put back the use of less injurious ways of controlling situations. Can you outline for us the way in which you communicate, and the respective responsibilities of the Home Office, ACPO and individual police forces?
Graham Smith: From HOSDB’s perspective, we sit on a number of different ACPO committees who look after public order, armed policing, or self-defence, arrest and restraint, which is more routine patrol officers. They have a number of committees that sit underneath those and, through that network, an operational requirement is put together. So it’s the best way we have of finding out what a national requirement for a piece of equipment would be. For instance, that was done with incapacitant sprays, and we formed a requirement from that through the SDAR committee. Because routine patrol officers were the ones who were predominantly using that, they knew what they wanted it to do. So that is how we get the requirements through the police.
We also have day-to-day contact with police directly if they have problems with any equipment, so they will ring us up if a Taser is not working or if there’s a problem with an incapacitant spray and we will try and work out what that problem is-whether it’s a systemic thing that we need to solve across the whole of the equipment.
Q124 Alun Michael: So the police requirements and any complications are fed through to you. What is the responsibility then, as between the Home Office and ACPO, in saying what is authorised and what guidance there is on its use?
Christian Papaleontiou: If I could come in there. Graham obviously leads on the scientific element and technical analysis. In the policing directorate, we will then provide a policy overlay on top of the technical assessment. As Mr Chesterman set out, the process for the approval of less-lethal weapons is set out in the Home Office code of practice on the police use of firearms and less-lethal weapons. The Home Office code of practice has a statutory basis, which is in the Police Reform Act 2002, and chief officers must have regard to the code of practice. So, at the moment, the level that the Home Office sets is that we have a regulatory role in terms of setting that standard.
Q125 Alun Michael: I understand all that, but when it comes to individual police officers within the jurisdiction of an individual chief constable knowing what is allowed and what isn’t, reading all the detailed information isn’t very helpful. So what I’m trying to get to is where the decision lies in terms of the authorisation of use of a particular piece of kit, because the evaluation has already been done, and the code of practice in terms of how it is used in practice on the ground?
Christian Papaleontiou: In terms of that process, the Home Office will go through the approval process. It is then communicated through ACPO to forces and then, within a force, it will be up to the local chief officer to ensure that the force and the officers within that force understand which weapons are approved by the Home Secretary according to that code of practice.
Q126 Steve McCabe: I wanted to ask Mr Smith a question. You said in response to the Chair that you had nothing to do with the contract with Pro-Tect. Who did authorise that contract? How did they come into the game?
Christian Papaleontiou: Can I explain the procurement process?
Chair: Yes, please.
Christian Papaleontiou: The procurement process, as Graham said, the scientific development-
Chair: For the record, it’s Mr Widdecombe or Mr Smith. There are two Grahams. I know Mr Widdecombe hasn’t spoken but, for the record, we need to know which one.
Christian Papaleontiou: Mr Smith will be involved in the technical assessment. Taser is identified as meeting the ACPO operational requirement. Taser is manufactured by Taser International. They are the sole manufacturers of Taser.
Q127 Chair: In the world?
Christian Papaleontiou: In the world. There is only one manufacturer. It is then a commercial decision for Taser International who it chooses to sell its products to in any given country. Whoever it chooses to sell those products to in any given country will need a section 5 authority from the Home Office.
Q128 Chair: Just stopping you there, for the unenlightened in this procurement process: they would have decided on Pro-Tect and then Pro-Tect comes to the Home Office. Then what happens?
Christian Papaleontiou: Then the Home Office will see if they are a fit and proper company to own a section 5 authority to provide Tasers to the police.
Q129 Chair: The Home Office is a very big organisation. Who in the Home Office-I think this is what Mr McCabe wants to know? If it’s not the three of you who know about Tasers, who is it? Oh, it’s Mr Widdecombe. You’re the one who authorised it. You’ve been sitting very quietly.
Graham Widdecombe: We lie at the end of the process, in so far as because these are prohibited weapons, they do require a section 5 authority from the Secretary of State and so, therefore, we come at that part of the process. It just so happens I’m in the same unit as Christian so therefore we’re able to talk about and discuss the policy issues.
Q130 Chair: Excellent. So it was you; you signed this off?
Graham Widdecombe: We signed off the section 5 authority.
Q131 Chair: When you say "we", who do you mean?
Graham Widdecombe: The Home Secretary-the Home Office-issues the section 5 authority, which is a requirement.
Q132 Chair: On your advice?
Graham Widdecombe: Indeed. On the basis that what we look at is that there is an established business need and-as Christian was saying-that the individuals concerned are of good character. We look very closely at the security and the transportation, but the actual contract lies between Pro-Tect and Taser International.
Q133 Chair: Just to get this right so it is clear to the Committee: Mr Smith does the technical stuff. You don’t buy this equipment at all. It’s bought by Pro-Tect from Taser International on a commercial basis. It then ends up with you and you write a report for the Home Secretary saying, "This is a great company" or "This is a bad company", and then the decision is made by a collection of individuals.
Graham Widdecombe: But we’re not the end user. The end user is the police. They’re the people-
Q134 Chair: Yes, but they need a certificate from you, don’t they? If they don’t get a section 5 certificate, they can’t supply to the police. Is that right?
Graham Widdecombe: The police can buy them. The police do not need a section 5 authority. By virtue of the Firearms Act, they’re deemed to be Crown servants.
Q135 Chair: So what is the point of getting a section 5 authority?
Graham Widdecombe: That’s for the supply. That’s for the importation and the supply of the Tasers themselves. We then make it quite clear who Pro-Tect can supply those Tasers to, and we say that is for the purposes of supplying it to the police force and whomsoever may also have established a need for it.
Q136 Chair: So, once you sign this off and you say that they’re okay, does an individual police force-like Kent, for example-have to come to you and say, "By the way we’re thinking of doing this," or can they wave their certificate and say, "We have a certificate; you can buy from us"?
Graham Widdecombe: Yes, Pro-Tect would wave their certificate and they would say, "We are able to supply." Provided it’s in accordance with the conditions of their section 5 authority, they can provide that to police forces, indeed.
Q137 Chair: What Mr McCabe wants to know is: can they buy from anyone else without a section 5 certificate?
Graham Widdecombe: No.
Q138 Chair: So the section 5 certificate is kind of an imprint of approval-"You can buy from this guy"?
Graham Widdecombe: Yes.
Q139 Chair: So you signed off authorisation for the 43 police forces?
Graham Widdecombe: We said that this company has an evidenced need to possess these and to import them and, yes, they can then supply those to those people who are listed on their authority.
Chair: Mr McCabe is looking very contorted, so I’m going to allow him to probe you even further on this.
Q140 Steve McCabe: It seems a very convoluted process to me. The bottom line is that are a monopoly supplier. You license them and the police forces have to buy from them because they’re the only people they can buy from. That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Graham Widdecombe: Yes.
Q141 Chair: When you decided to suspend this licence, as the Home Secretary did, this was on your advice, was it?
Graham Widdecombe: This was following inquiries where we approached the company, set out the situation as we understood it, and said that we thought that was a breach of their authority. They were then able to respond with their views on it, which we considered and then warned them that we were thinking of revocation.
Chair: Members may come back to this.
Q142 Mr Winnick: We heard from previous witnesses from the police-senior police of course-that Tasers should be used, and are used, only in extreme circumstances. We’re agreed on that, are we, the three of you?
Chair: Could we have order on the Committee? We didn’t hear Mr Winnick’s question because Members were chatting.
Mr Winnick: You are agreed, the three of you, that they are only to be used in extreme circumstances by the police?
Christian Papaleontiou: We agree that Taser should be used only in line with ACPO guidance, which is very clear that Tasers should only be used where there is a severe threat of violence to an officer, the public or the person himself.
Q143 Mr Winnick: So it would be-the words that I used-in extreme circumstances, yes?
Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.
Q144 Mr Winnick: Therefore, are you of the view-that is the Home Office, your section, and presumably the Home Secretary-that Tasers should not be used in policing demonstrations?
Christian Papaleontiou: We again support the ACPO guidance, which is very clear that Tasers should not be used in terms of a crowd control measure in public order scenarios.
Q145 Mr Winnick: Probing you a little more, really a yes or no is required, if I may say so. In demonstrations, be it what is taking place now or particularly on Thursday by students, and what might happen in the near future, is it the view-I want to be absolutely clear on this, in so far as you can be absolutely clear in giving an answer-that Tasers should be not used by the police in policing these demonstrations?
Christian Papaleontiou: Tasers should not be used by the police in policing demonstrations.
Q146 Chair: I think Mr Winnick wants a yes or no. Is that a yes?
Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.
Q147 Mark Reckless: I can’t quite remember which witness said which comments-I hope you’ll forgive me for that-but we have heard from you, at least collective, that the Home Office code of practice has a statutory basis and Parliament has required that. But then, in other answers, we’ve been told that it is ACPO that is assessing the policy and issuing the guidance on it. I’m concerned by that.
Christian Papaleontiou: Again, just to be clear, what the Home Office code of practice tries to do is get an appropriate balance between allowing the police experts the operational discretion to use police weaponry as they feel is proportionate and necessary, and also providing some national oversight, in terms of the safety of those weapons and the medical testing behind those weapons, to help them to inform those operational decision makers.
Q148 Mark Reckless: But surely if Parliament is delegating to the Home Office a power to produce a code of practice in this area, isn’t it ultra vires for the Home Office then to delegate this to ACPO?
Christian Papaleontiou: No, the Home Office code of practice is guidance that chief officers must have regard to, not must comply with-there is a key distinction there. So these are the principles that are set out in the Home Office code of practice, which gives force to greater detailed guidance from ACPO.
Q149 Mark Reckless: So it’s the Home Office code of practice and not the ACPO guidance that chief constables must have regard to?
Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.
Q150 Dr Huppert: Can I come back to information we’ve had from ACPO as well-they seem to come up rather often-about chest shots. As I mentioned earlier-I think you were in the room-Taser International have advised that you should avoid chest shots. We have heard they are the monopoly supplier in the whole world of these things, so one can assume they possibly know what they’re talking about in this. But ACPO, presumably taking advice from DOMILL, decided that that wasn’t relevant. Were you all consulted about this? Do you have an opinion on whether ACPO knows better than Taser International on the safety risks?
Graham Smith: The question was posed following Taser International’s announcement of that slight change in guidelines. The training that is carried on in the UK isn’t purely "aim centre chest and fire". There are all sorts of other caveats, and DOMILL were given a full brief on what the UK training is. They were also obviously aware of the evidence behind the announcement made by Taser International. They didn’t consider that changing the point of aim would increase the safety, given the evidence that they were shown, but they are producing a sixth statement shortly-they have five statements at the moment-that will incorporate a number of different factors that they’ve been looking at over the past two years, which will update the guidance.
Q151 Dr Huppert: I’m sure we’ll look forward to seeing that. Could I also just take you on to the idea of training. We heard in the earlier session about the X12 shotgun Taser being used on sort of early morning, "quick glance at it" type training. Are you comfortable that that is an appropriate level of training? Do you think police officers acted reasonably by using weapons that they had never been formally trained on?
Graham Smith: I don’t know what the training was. I can explain to you how that particular piece of equipment works, but as to what training would be involved in that case, I’m not sure.
Q152 Dr Huppert: We heard earlier that the Northumbria police force-I think-were given some X12 shotguns as an emergency operation because they needed to be used immediately. Does that bring any concerns for you?
Graham Smith: For the Taser X26 and the M26-its predecessor-the training and guidelines were put together very carefully prior to its introduction and were reviewed, along with the technical information, by DOMILL, which enabled them to give a considered statement. I’m not sure that was the case in this.
Christian Papaleontiou: Can I just come in on that point? The whole reason why we have the system in place to approve less-lethal weapons is to try and minimise the risks of any improper use. That is why we have very robust levels of training and robust guidance, and why that informs, in turn, medical statements that then give us the confidence in that weapon. Clearly that process did not happen in terms of the Northumbria incident, but we should say that the IPCC are looking at it and the IPCC will follow the investigative trail. We really can’t comment on the particulars of that case until the IPCC have commented.
Q153 Mr Burley: I heard what you were saying, and ACPO said the same, that Tasers should be used only in extreme cases-when officers are facing extreme violence. I’m just looking at the form they have to fill out after they’ve used a Taser. In box number 3 it says, "The reason for Taser use. The prime tactical purpose" and they have some tick-box options. Two of the tick-box options for the prime use of a Taser are: to remove handcuffs and to secure evidence. Does it surprise you that those are two options for the prime use of Taser-given we’ve heard ACPO say that it should only be used in extreme lethal conditions-and that removing handcuffs should even be an option?
Graham Smith: As I say, from a technical perspective, I’m not sure. Perhaps I could look back at the data and see how many times those options were ticked and given as the prime tactical purpose, and report back for you.
Q154 Mr Burley: It seems quite surprising they are in there. My main question was coming to the X12 Taser, which I understand you’ve purchased. There is a Wayne State University study into it.
Graham Smith: That’s right, yes.
Q155 Mr Burley: Are you waiting for the outcome of that study before you make a decision on its safety issues here?
Graham Smith: That would feed into a decision; that wouldn’t be the whole of the information that we would need. The study has been ongoing for some time. Perhaps if I show you the round and explain what we’ve been doing.
The XREP has been on the drawing board, so to speak, for a number of years and the first iteration of it was launched in late 2007. We commissioned Wayne State University to start looking at the round in early 2008. It was done at Wayne State University, which is in Detroit, as part of a tripartite agreement between the Americans, Canadians and us to save money, because we have the same requirement. This is in fact the round that was assessed at that time. I’ll pass it round in a minute, but please be careful of all the spikes on it.
It is fired from a shotgun, so this is a shotgun shell. The X12 is just a special type of shotgun. There’s nothing peculiar about it, apart from the fact that it will only fire this round, so you can’t mistakenly put another round inside it and fire it. The second special element of it is that it has a rifle barrel that is intended to spin the round and increase its accuracy-a spinning round will be more accurate. This is a round itself, so when it comes out of the shotgun it obviously travels towards the target. These fins on the back will also give it some spin stabilisation as well, because Taser International envisage that you could fire it from another shotgun if the police force in question didn’t-or couldn’t-afford an X12 or whatever. They are looking to the American market as well as the UK market.
Q156 Mr Burley: How much is an X12?
Graham Smith: It’s about £700.
So the concept of operation is this would hit the target. At the front here you have four probes that are very similar to Taser barbs. You say you’ve seen Taser before. So those would lodge into the target. Between this nose cone and the body, there’s a breakable connecting piece that, on the kinetic impact, would break apart and what would then happen is the round would drop down, like so, and you have this part attached to the person and this part dropping down. That is a very important element. If you’re aware of the way Taser works, you’ll know that the two probes need to be a certain distance apart to get a physical incapacitation effect. If they’re too close or if it’s a drive stun, for instance, you just get a painful effect and it won’t stop people moving, which is the real utility behind that device.
So, although the four probes on the front here do have a circuit between them and they will put a current into a person, it will only be a painful experience-it won’t incapacitate. What needs to happen is for a secondary connection to be made at least 200 millimetres apart. So with this thing dangling down-you’ll see when I pass it round-there are some further probes at the bottom here, which are intended to go through the clothing and into the skin and form that secondary connection. Alternatively, the person can grab the back of this where there are further probes, grab the wire or grab the bottom, and form a connection through the arm.
Another important difference between this and the X26 is that this uses a very much lower voltage. It uses 500 volts, whereas the X26 uses 50,000 volts. The reason that they use that very high voltage in the X26 is so that it can then jump a spark gap. So if the probe doesn’t hit the skin, if it just lodges in the clothing, the device will still work-it will ionise the air and it will jump that gap. Because of the power requirements to do that, this device can’t do it, so therefore it must attach to the skin for it to work. It won’t jump any gap; it won’t have any sparking effect.
Q157 Mr Burley: Does that make it safer, because it’s a lower voltage?
Graham Smith: Not necessarily, no. It really depends on the waveform itself. The voltage is there to ionise the air.
Q158 Chair: If that was fired at someone who had in their possession a gun that was being pointed at police, would that result in any involuntary reaction?
Graham Smith: It could result in an involuntary action, and it could also not produce an effect and the person could still voluntarily fire the weapon with this particular waveform. That was part of the assessment that was done by Taser International themselves.
Q159 Bridget Phillipson: Are you carrying out your own testing at the moment on the X12 Taser?
Graham Smith: No. It’s all contracted to Wayne State University.
Q160 Dr Huppert: When using the X12 you’re firing from a significantly greater distance, presumably.
Graham Smith: Yes.
Q161 Dr Huppert: As I understand it, part of the training of officers who use Tasers is to deal with what I think are called "special population groups"-people who are deaf or whose first language may not be English-in order to have different interactions. We heard from the Chair earlier about people with mental health conditions. Does the increased distance make it harder for officers to recognise these features?
Graham Smith: It might do. I don’t really know about the operational details of how they would be used, but obviously that would be a matter for the guidance to cover.
Q162 Dr Huppert: But isn’t the purpose of this shotgun-based thing that you can fire it from a lot further away, which means you must know less about what you’re doing?
Graham Smith: The reasoning beyond this device is to provide the same effect as the Taser X26, but at distances beyond the six or so metres that you can get with the X26. So the idea is that this would go out to 20 metres, although we found some problems with that in the testing that we did on the original round.
Christian Papaleontiou: The point that you make is a good one. Again, going through the process, what would need to happen if it did get to the stage where it was going to be approved is that the approval process would have to take into account the medical implications, and the medical panel would take into account, for example, the fact that you are at a greater distance and the difficulties inherent in that in terms of its operational use. That, in turn, would need to be reflected in ACPO guidance and ACPO guidelines in order to make a proper assessment of its medical limitations or benefits.
Q163 Dr Huppert: Am I right in understanding that-I think it’s from the Taser International site-it autonomously generates neuromuscular incapacitation for 20 continuous seconds? So it’s quite a long period of effect, whereas I think for the regular Tasers it’s only while actually activated by the officer.
Graham Smith: With the normal Taser, if you pull the trigger and let go of it, it will spark for five seconds. The officer can interrupt that at any time by turning the safety of the device off. If you keep your finger on the trigger it will carry on until the trigger goes. So that’s the control on the X26. Obviously with this you don’t have immediate control, so what the company have done is provided the battery inside will run for up to a minute, but they are pre-selected to fire for 20 or 30 seconds. But it can be tuned. So if you were to order a special batch of these for 10 seconds, or whatever, you could do that. You could tune the components inside. I understand a future development is to make it controllable by a remote control device so you could control it remotely.
Q164 Steve McCabe: The Taser Shockwave, as I understand it, is a weapon specifically designed to help disperse crowds. You have one-the Home Office Scientific and Development Branch have one-but you’ve said you don’t intend that it should be used for its original purpose. What purpose are you going to recommend it is used for?
Graham Smith: As you say, the Shockwave is a device that is fired remotely and can control a number of different cartridges. We don’t have that device any more; we gave it back to the company. But what we were interested in was using the control mechanisms inside it for another project that we have-not for firing multiple Taser cartridges, but utilising it for a different purpose. I can go into that in more detail outside of meeting but it’s a classified project.
Q165 Steve McCabe: But there’s no intention for you to recommend that the Taser Shockwave be used by the police in this country?
Graham Smith: No. The Shockwave itself was not what we were looking at. It was the controlling electronics that were used within that device.
Q166 Bridget Phillipson: Have you received an application for the granting of authority to sell Tasers? Currently no one has yet.
Graham Widdecombe: Yes, and in fact in the past few days we’ve granted an authority to another company to do just that. We did receive a number of expressions of interest but, as I say, it’s not our role to develop those and we put them in touch with Taser International to see if they could first off establish a commercial relationship. As I say, we received the one application and that has now been granted.
Q167 Bridget Phillipson: You’ll be aware that some police authorities have reported difficulties in procurement. Now that that’s happening and under way, do you anticipate that these problems will be alleviated?
Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.
Q168 Chair: In answer to Ms Phillipson, are you saying that there will be no shortage of Tasers and there will be no shortage of cartridges?
Christian Papaleontiou: The company has now been granted a section 5 authority.
Q169 Chair: Yes. Sorry, I will come to the company in a minute. Can somebody answer my question?
Christian Papaleontiou: Just to explain the process very quickly: the company now needs to get an export licence.
Q170 Chair: Sorry, I don’t want to know the process. I will come to that in a second. Will there be a shortage? What Ms Phillipson said was: will there be a shortage of either Tasers or cartridges in the short term, the medium term or the long term? It is a yes or no, I’m afraid.
Christian Papaleontiou: No.
Q171 Chair: Now you can tell us about the process.
Christian Papaleontiou: The process is that Taser International will now have to get an export licence, which they are confident that they will get in a matter of days.
Q172 Chair: From whom do they get that licence?
Christian Papaleontiou: From the appropriate Government Department in the United States.
Q173 Chair: You mean the business Department of the Government?
Christian Papaleontiou: Yes, of the US.
Q174 Chair: Mr McCabe’s questions: surely, as they have been supplying these guns and ammunition for the last few years, they must have such a licence?
Christian Papaleontiou: The export licence will be specific to the new company that they’re supplying.
Q175 Chair: What is the name of the new company?
Christian Papaleontiou: TSR-Tactical Safety Responses.
Q176 Chair: What kind of research have you done into this company? In view of the controversy that has occurred, has anyone looked at this company? How many former police officers are employed; do they have the technical capacity to deal with this issue? Has somebody looked at this company?
Graham Widdecombe: Yes, indeed and that’s what we have been doing.
Q177 Chair: You have, Mr Widdecombe?
Graham Widdecombe: My section has been in touch with the Northampton police, which is where this company is based. We’ve been in touch with the company itself. We’ve asked for assurances from them as to what new procedures would be put in place. We’ve sought evidence from them as to a continuing business model. So, yes, we’ve looked very-
Q178 Chair: How long has the company been in existence?
Graham Widdecombe: This is a newly formed company.
Chair: A newly formed company?
Graham Widdecombe: It’s a newly formed company, yes.
Q179 Mr Winnick: Would it be possible, Chair, to have documentation sent to us about this company and its background?
Chair: I think Mr Winnick makes a very good point. The concern of this Committee is that in view of what has happened so far, it would be very good to have documentation about this company sent to the Committee. But also the concern that I have is that an awful lot seems to revolve around Northamptonshire.
Graham Widdecombe: That’s purely because that’s where they are based.
Q180 Chair: But also they did the so-called independent inquiry into Pro-Tect, did they not? Wasn’t it a Northamptonshire inquiry into Pro-Tect?
Graham Widdecombe: Yes, indeed, because Pro-Tect were also based in Northampton.
Q181 Chair: Are any of the former employees of Pro-Tect involved in this company?
Graham Widdecombe: They are, yes, and that’s something we looked at very carefully to establish whether this was a new company or not, and to get assurances from them that the new arrangements were such as to avoid any sort of similar situations.
Q182 Chair: Let me just take this slowly. The Home Office withdraws authorisation to a company called Pro-Tect. It then gives authorisation to another company based in the same area that is, in effect, using references from the same police authority that did the inquiry into the company that is no longer authorised, with some of the same employees of the previous company that has been struck off authorisation?
Graham Widdecombe: Yes, but we made it quite clear-
Q183 Chair: Yes? And you think that’s satisfactory?
Graham Widdecombe: It is something we had to look into very carefully and, as I say, it’s not something we did lightly. The fact that Northampton is the same police service is just one of those areas-I think that’s where they were based. We did seek assurances that the principals of Pro-Tect wouldn’t be involved in any way in the setting up of the new company, that there were procedures in place and that the lessons had been learned. As I say, we’re adding additional conditions to their section 5 authority to ensure that one person acting alone cannot do something similar.
Q184 Steve McCabe: Mr Widdecombe, you said earlier that there had been expressions from a number of companies, so presumably they weren’t all from Northampton. Some of the others would have been from other parts of the country without any connection to Pro-Tect at all.
Graham Widdecombe: Indeed.
Q185 Steve McCabe: Did you consider the idea of a fresh start and a clean slate? Can you understand why someone-maybe more suspicious than me-would think this sounds a wee bit cosy and collusive? Did you consider the possibility that maybe it would have been smarter to go wider?
Graham Widdecombe: That was certainly something we did think very carefully about. Ultimately, we’re not the people who appoint. It’s for Taser International.
Q186 Steve McCabe: No, but you license. That’s why I’m asking this.
Graham Widdecombe: Yes, we license that and they were the only ones coming forward at the moment. We’ve issued an authority-
Q187 Steve McCabe: Sorry, I don’t understand that. You said earlier there were a number of companies. What happened to all the others?
Graham Widdecombe: They had not established a commercial business relationship with Taser International. So we said, "By all means go away and speak to Taser International and if Taser International-"
Q188 Steve McCabe: This is the difficulty I’m having. Taser International are a monopoly supplier. They select a business, who are also a monopoly supplier. The one protection in the system is that you license it so that it’s above board and we have some safeguards. The only decision you can come to, after what has happened, is to go back to what sounds like a version of the original company and start again, when you could have said to Taser International, "Look a bit wider." Why didn’t that happen?
Chair: I think Mr McCabe’s views properly represent the views of all members of the Committee. Who would like to give us an answer?
Christian Papaleontiou: Can I just explain the process? The process is that again it is a commercial decision for Taser International. That is a fact of law. It’s a commercial decision for Taser International.
Q189 Chair: We understand the processes. Could Mr Widdecombe, since he is the one who authorises this, answer the question put by Mr McCabe and address the concerns of the Committee that it has gone to a company that is newly formed with some of the same employees of the company that has been basically struck off? Do you understand the concerns of this Committee?
Graham Widdecombe: We do understand the concerns of the Committee. Discussions were held with Taser International, and it was suggested that they might want to look in the longer term more widely.
Q190 Bridget Phillipson: Two points. Surely if you had refused to grant the licence to this successor company, Taser would have to have been in the position to go more broadly, in terms of entering into commercial relationships with other suppliers. So, had the Home Office said, "We’re not sure about granting the authority to this new successor company", Taser International, had they wished to continue to supply to the UK, would therefore have to have explored more fully opportunities with other suppliers within the UK.
Christian Papaleontiou: The key point is that, whichever company comes forward, their section 5 authority has to be looked at on the merits of their case. So if a company comes forward saying they need a section 5 authority, the Home Office, legally, has to look at the case of that company, in terms of the public safety risks and the viability risks, and that’s the basis on which we look at that company. We also speak with Taser International to explain the process to them, so they understood the section 5 authority process, in terms of selecting a preferred supplier, and we continue to speak to Taser International to make sure that we will be in a position to ensure that there isn’t a shortfall of Tasers, should there be a failing in this case. But we have put strict conditions around the licence to ensure that we minimise those risks.
Q191 Bridget Phillipson: It’s just the comments that were made earlier seemed to refer to the licence being granted because the other companies that were interested in operating in the UK didn’t have that commercial relationship with Taser International. So is it about merit, or is it about having an established commercial relationship?
Graham Widdecombe: It’s about both, I think.
Q192 Chair: Mr Widdecombe, isn’t the fact of the matter that you suspended this contract and you don’t have a supplier by 31 December, and therefore you have to give it to somebody and this is-excuse the pun-a shotgun marriage? This is actually what you’re trying to do: get someone in place very quickly without the necessary checks.
Graham Widdecombe: No, I don’t think we were being expedient to that extent. We are very jealous about the section 5 authorities we issue, and we did seek to satisfy ourselves that this new company would meet all the necessary criteria, that they had the business model there in place, that they had new procedures in place, that, hopefully, there would be no repetition and that we would-as Christian was saying-put stringent conditions on them. We will be looking very closely at them over the next six months.
Q193 Bridget Phillipson: Without getting into the names and details of individuals, when you say that there is similarity in the employees from the predecessor to this new apparent successor company, are you talking at the director level, senior management level or people who were employed within the previous company?
Graham Widdecombe: These were employees, I think, and they were experts in the field in what they were doing, so they were very knowledgeable about Tasers. They weren’t directors as such.
Q194 Chair: How many?
Graham Widdecombe: Two I believe, at the moment.
Q195 Alun Michael: Can we look at it from a different point of view? It’s unusual nowadays for us to allow ourselves to be trapped by having only a single supplier. I understand the situation that there is a single manufacturer, but why was there not a requirement for them to supply via more than one supplier within the UK?
Graham Widdecombe: That was not a business model that Taser International-
Alun Michael: It’s not a business model that BT particularly wanted to give up when we had local loop unbundling, just to mention one example. It looks as if Taser International are being allowed to choose a business model that allows them to control supply in a way that I think would be most unusual in relation to firearms or any other element of equipment that is supplied.
Graham Widdecombe: Certainly, in relation to my particular take on the section 5 authorities, if another company were to come forward, we would certainly be more than happy to grant them an authority as well. That is why I say we’re sort of towards the end of the process.
Q196 Alun Michael: I understand that, Mr Widdecombe. I’m going rather wider than that to general Government and public policy. Clearly your responsibility is to be sure that the particular supplier meets the requirements for security and professionalism. That is understood. But I would have thought that the Government more widely, in terms of policy, would be unhappy with an organisation that insists that it’s only going to supply via, effectively, one retailer. I suppose it’s a wholesaler but-
Christian Papaleontiou: We are in a position where there is one manufacturer and, again, I should stress that legally it is a commercial decision for them. We can’t put conditions on Taser International as an international manufacturer.
Q197 Alun Michael: Can you not? There are many situations where Government policy does make manufacturers supply via a variety of suppliers.
Christian Papaleontiou: Sorry, I’m not aware of those arrangements.
Q198 Chair: As Mr Michael says, you must be able to put in conditions. Surely, if you as scientists believe something, there must be some kind of conditions on the sale of these?
Christian Papaleontiou: There are conditions on the sale to police forces.
Q199 Chair: Just to the police force but not to a manufacturer who wishes to supply to this country?
Christian Papaleontiou: I’m not aware of any conditions that we can put on Taser International in that regard. Can I just come back on one point that you made earlier, Chair, which was the suggestion that we’d acted expediently because the supply of Tasers was getting critical? It’s important to emphasise that we did have contingency arrangements in place to ensure that, to meet critical need, we would be able to purchase direct from Taser International themselves on a one-off basis, precisely because we didn’t want to be held over a barrel and so that we could make a decision on the merits of the company.
Q200 Alun Michael: Can I stick to the question that I’m asking? I’m quite clear about the appropriate way in which the Home Office departments have dealt with the issue but there’s the wider procurement issue of whether it’s appropriate for a manufacturer to be allowed to supply only through one intermediary. Surely that gives them a monopoly situation that doesn’t fit with normal Government procurement policies, does it? It may be outside the Home Office’s requirements, but I wonder whether you could look at that and respond to us?
Graham Widdecombe: I was simply going to say that I think that does go a little bit beyond the Home Office, as such, and is probably more a matter of BIS policy or trading issues.
Chair: It is probably a matter for the Home Secretary. We’ll ask her about this, because presumably she can make this decision.
Graham Smith: Just one point on that. From a technical perspective, having a single supplier makes it very much easier for us to track cartridges and to ensure that quality and any changes are immediately followed up on. So we can control one company a lot easier, but that’s just a technical perspective.
Alun Michael: If I may, Chair, my point is that there might be a good reason for overriding general policy. I was looking for an assurance that it had been considered within Government, even if it’s not just a Home Office issue on its own. I think that’s what we would need to probe a little further.
Chair: We should have our final question from a scientist to scientists.
Q201 Dr Huppert: I’m afraid that’s not what it was going to be, Chair. How comfortable are you that Tactical Safety Responses-I think that is the name-are in reality a completely different company from Pro-Tect, and that they’re not using the same staff, the same approach and the same system, and that there won’t be the same problems that we had with Pro-Tect?
Graham Widdecombe: As I say, that is something we did go back to them on. We asked for details of how they were planning to run the organisation and what procedures they have in place. One example, perhaps, is that any safes and security they install should be on a double-keyed basis so that it wouldn’t be possible for one individual to act alone.
Q202 Dr Huppert: My concern is more that there seems to be a remarkable similarity between the two companies. To what extent do we have one monopoly supplier that had its licence withdrawn for breaking the rules, but we’re just going to let it have effectively another name, but very similar staff and a very similar approach?
Graham Widdecombe: We were very anxious to avoid that, otherwise we wouldn’t have withdrawn the authority for Pro-Tect. So we are satisfied that, in public safety terms and in terms of the way they’re going to conduct their business for the future, that they will have learned their lessons from that and that they will be able to continue with their technical expertise, which is one important factor, but that they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We will certainly be watching them very closely to make sure that this isn’t just Pro-Tect under another name.
Chair: Thank you, Mr Widdecombe. I think the Committee is not absolutely as satisfied as you are, because we’ve heard about this for the first time. We would be most grateful if you could send us the information that I alluded to. In fact, I will write to you after this meeting asking for certain information. It would be very helpful.
Mr Winnick: About the company?
Chair: About the company, Mr Winnick, yes. Thank you very much for coming in. I’m sorry that we may have been robust in our questioning, but that is the role of the Select Committee, as you will understand. We will have an opportunity of putting even more robust questions to the Home Secretary next Tuesday. Thank you very much for coming in.
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