So-called safer plastic bullets, first fired in 2005, have caused more harm than those used previously, according to research on people struck by them in the North of Ireland.
A study by doctors from emergency departments has found that the new plastic bullet -- the “attenuated energy projectile” -- left one third of patients with injuries to the head and neck and 17 per cent to the chest.
The 14 deaths from rubber or plastic bullets in the north have all resulted from head or chest trauma.
“The AEP was designed to be more accurate, safer and reduce the injury potential compared with the L21A1, and especially to reduce the clinical consequences of an injury to the head,” according to the research paper published in Emergency Medicine Journal.
“However, in this first survey of its usage, 50 per cent of the injuries presenting to hospital were to the face, neck, head or chest. This injury pattern was more in keeping with older plastic baton rounds than with the L21A1,” the study said.
In response to the study, Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice and the United Campaign against Plastic Bullets, said she wanted answers from the Policing Board, which has responsibility for buying the bullets.
“Hundreds of the new plastic bullets, introduced in 2004, were used in the riots of autumn 2005 and now we learn that when they hit people they were hit in the chest and head,” she said.
“These revelations have shocked the families of those killed by plastic bullets to the core.”
PSNI Chief Hugh Orde has recently said his force will continue to use plastic bullets where necessary for “public order”.
Doctors who conducted the study collected details of patients with AEP bullet wounds who attended four emergency departments.
The medics found that half had to be admitted to hospital. One patient was admitted to intensive care.
Fourteen patients injured by plastic bullets during three Belfast riots from July to September 2005 were examined.
“It is clear that the AEP requires ongoing evaluation, and it is too early to conclude that it provides a safer alternative to the L21A1,” the report authors said.