Irish Republican News · June 14, 2013
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
British always knew rubber bullets were lethal


The use of rubber bullets in the North of Ireland was sanctioned by the British government despite its own tests showing they were potentially lethal, new documents have revealed.

The findings are contained in a new report by the Derry-based human rights organisation, the Pat Finucane Centre.

The centre said it had unearthed files which show that research was withheld in cases taken by rubber bullet victims dating back to 1970, when they were first introduced into Ireland.

Between 1970 and 1975 -- when it was replaced by the equally lethal ‘plastic bullet’ -- an estimated 55,000 rubber bullets were fired in Ireland by the British army. Three people were killed by the projectile and hundreds injured in those five years alone.

The secret test data, held at the National Archives at Kew in London, was found in confidential documents relating to the case of Derry man Richard Moore, who was blinded with a rubber bullet in 1972 at the age of 10.

Mr Moore, founder of the Children in Crossfire charity, said he was saddened by the news.

“It means that if the British government had acted on their own research in 1970, I would be able to see today. There are three people in the cemetery who might be alive today,” he said.

The documents include correspondence between senior civil servants about a compensation case Mr Moore’s family took on his behalf in 1977. In one key report, a civil servant noted that Mr Moore’s counsel had sought discovery of relevant documents.

The report states: “The papers will disclose that the tests were carried out in a shorter time than was ideal because the army needed a riot control weapon quickly, that the Ministry (of Defence) was aware that it could be lethal, that it could and did cause serious injuries but that these penalties were accepted in order to give the army a riot control weapon of lower lethality than the SLR (army issue rifle) in the shortest possible time.”

The government proposed a settlement out of court rather than release the test results as they feared the “more malicious sectors of the press” would have a “field day”.

In the debate as to whether or not the tests should be released, British military officials also expressed concern about how they would be used by “political enemies”.

Pat Finucane Centre spokesman Paul O’Connor said the confidential papers provided evidence of the “shameful levels” civil servants were prepared to go to withhold evidence about the true dangers of rubber bullets.

“We would hope that these documents will help other families get closer to the truth,” he said.

Mr Moore said the documents brought sad memories back to him.

“This is a government which should protect its citizens and children but was in a position to ensure that these weapons were not used but still allowed them to be deployed,” he said.

“While my case has been dealt with, there should be more openness for other families. I would hope that documents like this can be released so that it’s not up to families to seek them out. That’s really part of the process of reconciliation.”

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