Plastic Bullets

Ready and Waiting



Video - Remembering the Victims of Rubber and Plastic Bullets

A 34 minute Barry Curran video filmed on the 11th September 2005 at the unveiling by Relatives for Justice of a Troops Out Movement-sponsored mural erected in memory of those murdered and maimed by the RUC and British army in the six counties by rubber and plastic bullets.

The video can be viewed at:



The Victims
Pictures from Relatives for Justice

13-year-old Brian Stewart of Turf Lodge, West Belfast.
Died in hospital six days after he was struck by a British Army plastic bullet yards from his home. His inquest heard that the soldier did not know the rules governing the use of baton rounds.

11-year-old Stephen McConomy of Derry City.
Died three days after being hit by a plastic bullet in April 1982. Witnesses said Stephen was standing with his hands in his pockets when he was struck from a distance of 17 feet.

21-year-old Michael Donnelly of Falls Road, West Belfast.
A dedicated social worker killed in Leeson Street in August 1980. No riot was in progress. The high court in Belfast heard the plastic bullet was fired "at a time when it was uncalled for and unjustified".

11-year-old Frank Rowntree of West Belfast.
Died four days after being struck by an allegedly doctored rubber bullet in April 1972 fired by a member of the British Army. His inquest heard a British Army representative admit he did not know at what distance it was permissible to fire a rubber bullet gun or at which part of the body it should be aimed.

18-year-old Strabane Republican Tobias Molloy.
Killed by a rubber bullet fired by a soldier at the Camels Hump border crossing in July 1972. Rubber bullets were fired at youths attending his funeral.

21-year-old Thomas Friel of Derry City.
Died in May 1973, five days after being struck in the head by a rubber bullet as he returned home after a night out.

10-year-old Stephan Geddis of West Belfast.
Died in August 1975, two days after being struck in the head by a rubber bullet.

15-year-old Paul Whitters of Derry City.
Died in April 1981, 10 days after being struck in the head by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC.

14-year-old Julie Livingstone of Lenadoon Estate, West Belfast.
Struck by a plastic bullet as she returned from a shop near her home in May 1981 and died the next day. Witnesses said rioting in the area began AFTER she was shot.

12-year-old Carol Ann Kelly of Twinbrook, West Belfast.
Struck by a plastic bullet near her home in May 1981 and died two days later. She too was returning from a store and was carrying a carton of milk when she was shot.

45-year-old Henry Duffy from Creggan, Derry City.
Was hit in the head and chest in the early morning of May 22nd 1981 and died the same day.

30-year-old Nora McCabe.
Struck by a plastic bullet fired from an RUC Land Rover at 7.45am one morning in July 1981 and died next day. An RUC superintendent, a front seat passenger in the vehicle, told an inquest no shot was fired. A Canadian television crew provided footage to prove he had committed perjury. He was later promoted.

33-year-old Peter Doherty of Divis Flats, West Belfast.
Was standing in his kitchen in July 1981 when British Marine Commandos fired a plastic bullet through the window, striking him in the head. He died seven days later.

41-year-old Peter McGuiness of Shore Road, North Belfast.
Died minutes after being hit by a plastic bullet in his front garden in August 1981.

23-year-old John Downes from Andersonstown, West Belfast.
Killed in the most public fashion when he was struck in the chest at point blank range by an RUC plastic bullet in front of television cameras at a Republican rally.

20-year-old Keith White from Houston Park, Mourneview Estate, Lurgan, County Armagh. Hit by a plastic bullet fired by a member of the RUC during an Apprentice Boys parade in Portadown on 31st March 1986. He died in hospital two weeks later on 14th April.

15-year-old Seamus Duffy from Oldpark, North Belfast.
Was struck in the rib cage as he ran from RUC vehicles in the New Lodge area in August 1989. He died shortly afterwards.


The Killing Distances

This mural on the Falls Road in West Belfast depicts the distance in metres at which people were killed by plastic bullets. You can see the figure of the British gunman on the very left of the mural and the distance of the victims from it. The mural is 20 metres long and names each of the 14 victims of plastic (not rubber) bullets and states their ages. It also refers to the UN Committee Against Torture which condemned plastic bullets as a method of torture. The mural was painted by the children of the victim's families.

Demonstration against the use of plastic bullets

The use of rubber and plastic bullets has proved to be one of the most controversial aspects of policing in the north of Ireland. The weapon has been responsible for the deaths of seventeen people, seven of whom were children and although few reliable statistics exist in relation to injuries, the number is believed to be in the thousands. Furthermore, many of the deaths and injuries occurred when there was no public disturbance (the usual justification given for the firing of such bullets). According to inquest findings, only two of the fatalities occurred during rioting.

Since its introduction the plastic bullet has been the subject of constant and intense criticism, heated political debate, a number of legal inquiries and several critical publications. The sole argument used by those who favour the weapon’s use is that the government does not have a better alternative.


The Lethal Projectile

Plastic Bullet

Plastic bullets are used in the north of Ireland by the crown forces. The plastic bullet weighs 4.75 ounces and is approximately 4.5 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter. They are constructed of rock-solid PVC (polyvinylchloride). When a plastic bullet is fired, it leaves the barrel at approximately 160 miles per hour. The plastic bullet replaced the rubber bullet in 1973 and since then more than 60,000 have been fired. Seventeen people have been killed by rubber and plastic bullets in the last 30 years in the north of Ireland.

The PSNI claim that plastic bullets cause fewer and less severe injuries than live ammunition. This belief has led to the indiscriminate use of plastic bullets that would be unthinkable if live ammunition was being used. In 1996 over 7,000 rounds were fired by the British Army and the RUC during Unionist and Nationalist protests. In Derry alone 2,815 plastic bullets were fired from 11th July to 14th July. Although plastic bullets are labelled 'non-lethal' fourteen people, including seven children, were killed in the north of Ireland by plastic bullets between 1974 and 1996 and hundreds more have suffered grievous and life-changing injuries, including blindness and shattered bones.

Allegations of the sectarian use of plastic bullets are supported by eyewitness and victim testimony collected by Human Rights Watch and also by the disparity in the number of plastic bullets fired at the two communities. In 1996 according to RUC statistics, eight times as many plastic bullets were fired in three and a half days of Nationalist protest as were fired during four and a half days of Unionist protest.

Until recently the British forces had never used plastic bullets on their own people, although it seemed acceptable to use them in the north of Ireland.

When the British Labour Party was in opposition they pledged to ban plastic bullets. Once in power however, they introduced the new plastic bullet which is more lethal than the old one and bought a 50,000 stockpile days before the RUC was re-named the Police Service of Northern Ireland. They have now authorised their use in the Britain.




  • Write to your own MP at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.
  • Flood MP's with telephone calls, faxes and E-mail messages. You can contact your own MP through
  • Create a petition and collect other signatures calling for plastic bullets to be banned (petition sheets and copies of this text are available from the address below)
  • Organise delegations to your MP's Surgery
  • Call radio talk shows and write letters to newspapers
  • Propose a motion at meetings of Trade Unions, Labour Party, Community Groups or Societies you belong to

Visit Relatives For Justice for much more information on plastic bullets


Baton Round Has 'No Effective Alternative'
The Newsletter 06/02/04

Security Minister Jane Kennedy has said there is no acceptable and effective alternative to the current baton round.

Speaking at an international law enforcement conference yesterday to discuss the progress towards finding an acceptable, effective and less potentially lethal alternative to the baton round, Ms Kennedy said: "The Northern Ireland Office has been at the forefront of worldwide research into finding an acceptable alternative to the baton round, and that work continues.

"It is our judgement that there is still no commercially available product that is an acceptable, more safe and effective alternative to the current baton round although we will continue to monitor all developments.

"Against this background, two alternatives to the current baton round are currently being developed which the Government believes has the potential to fulfil this criteria."

Other speakers included Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan and vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Denis Bradley.

Representatives from police services and other law enforcement agencies, among others, attended the conference in London which had Article 2 of the UN Basic Principles on the use of Force and Firearms as its theme.

Plastic Bullets claim another life
Andersonstown News 19/08/04

A West Belfast man who battled bravely against devastating injuries he received after being struck by a plastic bullet as a schoolboy has lost his 23-year battle for life.

Father-of-two Dominic Marron collapsed and died while playing snooker with friends on Tuesday. An autopsy revealed he had died of a massive heart attack. Dominic had suffered from heart problems – as well as a number of other health complaints – after being struck in the head by an RUC plastic bullet in May 1981 at the age of 15. In an interview with the Andersonstown News four years ago, Dominic said he expected to have to undergo a bypass operation.

Domonic Loses His 23 Year Struggle

“I'll have a bypass soon. It's another legacy of being shot” – Dominic Marron, speaking to us in May 2000

The family of a West Belfast man who collapsed and died this week say they are in no doubt that his death is directly related to his being shot in the head by the RUC 23 years ago.

Father-of-two Dominic Marron collapsed and died while playing snooker with friends on Tuesday afternoon. A post mortem yesterday revealed that he suffered a massive heart attack.

The 39-year-old had suffered constant health difficulties – including heart problems – after being shot in the head by a plastic bullet in May 1981 at the age of just 15. Dominic's distraught wife, Jacqui, said that she's angry that she's been robbed of a loving husband while the couple's sons, Nicholas (13) and Gary (9), have lost a devoted father.

Four years ago the Forfar Street man spoke candidly to the Andersonstown News about the massive health problems he had suffered after being shot.

Yesterday, Dominic's wife Jacqui said her life and that of her two sons had been ripped apart by Dominic's death.

“I knew this day was coming… I just didn't know that it would come so soon,” sobbed Jacqui.

“I know that being shot killed him in the end.”

The Marron family had just enjoyed a holiday in Donegal. Jacqui said that Dominic was in high spirits and enjoying life – she said he was talking enthusiastically about starting night classes in September.

“When he left to play snooker with his pals he was great. We are only back from holiday. We were in Bundoran and we had a great time, a great time,” she said.

Jacqui recalled a bubbly character who loved to laugh despite the huge burden of his poor health.

“Everybody knew him from one end of Belfast to the other. He was so well-known, he was a top prankster and loved carrying out practical jokes. He cared about everybody and wouldn't have said a bad word about anybody.

"He was the first to defend a person, people came to him for help,” she added.

Jacqui said that in the back of their minds both she and Dominic knew that his continuing serious health problems, caused by being hit with the plastic bullet, would kill him.

“I think he knew. He blocked it out and I blocked it out. He always just said that he was alright,” she said.

After being shot by the RUC in 1981 Dominic was awarded compensation from the NIO. His wife said that the money was meaningless when compared to what her husband had to suffer in his lifetime.

“I'm so angry that he's gone. He would have done anything for us, we wanted for nothing.

“He was our life and I don't know what we will do without him,” she added.

Speaking to the Andersonstown News in May 2000, Dominic recalled the day he was shot – May 9, 1981, the day of the funeral of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Dominic was with his close friend Sean Savage at the time of the shooting. Sean was later shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar along with fellow IRA volunteers Mairead Farrell and Dan McCann.

“In a way I'm glad I can't remember what had happened, except what Sean Savage told me later,” Dominic told the Andersonstown News.

“He said we were standing outside the old incident centre on Linden Street when an RUC Land Rover pulled up on to the cribby about five yards away from us and just fired. The blood was gushing out of my head and everybody thought I was dead because I couldn't move.

“The plastic bullet had actually lodged in my skull, but a St John's Ambulance crew were on the Falls Road that day and took me to the Royal Victoria Hospital. According to my mother, God rest her, I died in hospital but they revived me and put me on a life-support machine, and then I lapsed into a coma.”

The father-of-two said that the health problems he had suffered since he was shot were numerous and debilitating.

“I was like a new-born child, learning how to walk and talk again,” he said.

“It was very frustrating. I still walk with a limp, but although I have feeling in my left arm I can't move it, which has baffled the doctors, they can't understand that. I'm only 34, but last year I had a massive heart attack and I'll have a bypass soon. The doctors told me it happened because of the weakness on my left hand side. It's another legacy of being shot,” added Dominic.

Dominic also suffered muscle spasms in his arms and legs as a result of the shooting. He said that in addition to health problems his personality also changed because of the shooting.

“I was a changed person, I'd go into tantrums,” said Dominic.

“I feel awful about it, but I know now that I just didn't know what I was doing. It was all part of the brain damage I suffered from being shot,” he added.

Last night Clara Reilly, Chairperson of Relatives for Justice and a veteran anti-plastic bullets campaigner, said that she first met Dominic shortly after he was shot in 1981.

“As we highlighted his case across the world Dominic with his family tried to rebuild his life,” said Clara.

“He had to learn to walk and talk again and would never regain full capacity and suffered serious ill-health for the rest of his too-short life,” she added.

“There is no doubt whatsoever in any of our minds that he died as a result of the injury that was inflicted on him in 1981.”

Clara said that she wanted to send a message to the RUC member who had shot at Dominic.

“Your actions are not forgotten and a family is left bereft. Your actions went without criminal charges, but they were a heinous crime which have now left two boys without a father and a wife without her husband.

“Dominic is the latest victim of plastic bullets. In these cynical times let us pause and reflect and all of us dedicate ourselves to ensuring that no family or child or community ever, ever faces the outrage of plastic bullets nor the impunity of state forces against such devastation,” she added.

Dominic Marron's funeral Mass will take place at 10am on Friday at St Paul's Church, with burial afterwards at the City Cemetery.


Statement from Relatives for Justice

Today with great sadness that Clara Reilly, Chairperson of Relatives for Justice released the following statement.

"I first met Dominic in 1981. He was 14 years old and had been struck in the head with a plastic bullet by an RUC member. He was shot outside Dunville Park, just across the road from the spot on which Nora McCabe was to be killed two months later. He suffered horrific head injuries which left him with devastating paralysis and brain damage. As we highlighted his case across the world Dominic with his family tried to rebuild his life. He had to learn to walk and talk again and would never regain full capacity and suffered serious ill health for the rest of his too short life.

"In recent years he continued to refuse to let the actions of the RUC win. He married and had two beautiful sons. He was eager to participate in activities that could help him overcome the effects of brain damage and help him with supporting his sons' education.

"He was also a fervent campaigner against plastic bullets. When the new bullet was introduced, despite his terrible ill health Dominic went to Stormont to lobby politicians, he gave press interviews and stood in protests and picket lines. He was an inspiration to us all as he fought to tell the world of the real horror of plastic bullets.

"Dominic's death is an awful blow to his community. More, it is a heart rending loss for his wife Jackie and two young sons. There is no doubt whatsoever in any of our minds or his family's minds that he died as a result of the injury that was inflicted on him in 1981. I want to personally send a message to the RUC member that fired a plastic bullet at 14 year old Dominic Marron's head. Your actions are not forgotten and a family is left bereft. Your actions went without criminal charges, but they were a heinous crime, which have now left two boys without their father and a wife without her husband.

"Dominic is the latest victim of plastic bullets. In these cynical times let us pause and reflect and all of us dedicate ourselves to ensuring that no family or child or community ever, ever, faces the outrage of plastic bullets nor the impunity of state forces which has left such devastation."



Plastic bullets: the agony continues
Andersonstown News 19/08/04

The tragic death this week of local father-of-two Dominic Marron is a timely reminder to us all that the issue of plastic bullets is still live a live one – much as the gun-crazy thugs within the British establishment here hope that we'll just forget about it and get on with our lives.

Rather than phase out this deadly weapons as they promised they would, the British government, through the conflict-hungry super-unionists in the NIO, has cynically built up huge stockpiles of new and improved – ie more deadly – plastic bullets even as we're daily being promised that a new beginning to policing really has taken place.

Sad as the death of Dominic Marron is, his life was an inspiration to us all. The plastic bullet that smashed into his skull and lodged there in 1981 caused devastating damage to him as a 15-year-old schoolboy. After coming out of a coma, Dominic had to learn to walk and talk again – and he had to endure a debilitating range of associated health problems that would have defeated a lesser person many years ago. But Dominic was determined to live his life on his terms. He fought his way out of his hospital bed to live a happy and fulfilled life with a wife and young family that he loved and who – as readers of our story this week will quickly appreciate – loved him very much too. His life may have been short and his passing has left a family and a community bereft, but we can all take comfort in this time of great sadness in the fact that Dominic's was a life well-lived.

Last week Dominic spent an idyllic summer break in Donegal with his family. As they enjoyed their holiday, this week's tragedy must have seemed like a million miles away. But as Dominic's wife Jacqui so honestly and movingly reveals to us today, the couple had both accepted that one day the RUC plastic bullet that smashed into his head would some day take his life. And that is exactly what happened.

Last year, in conjunction with the tireless anti-plastic bullets campaigners in Relatives for Justice, we ran a countdown in the pages of our newspaper to the time when the British government had promised that plastic bullets would be no more. That promise was flagrantly and cynically ditched and today the arsenals of the PSNI and the British army are bursting at the seams with plastic bullets. Those members of the Policing Board who by either silence or acquiescence allowed this grotesque build-up of plastic bullets to take place, and who looked on without comment as promises were broken, should think this morning of Dominic Marron and all those other people, all those other families, all those other communities, whose lives were devastated by plastic bullets.

Had Dominic Marron not succumbed to his injuries this week, we would not be thinking of him today. He would go on living his life in the face of unthinkable mental and physical adversity and we too would go about our business. But Dominic Marron is dead, and this morning as we prepare to bury him, we should spare a thought not just for our plastic bullet dead, but also for those hundreds of living victims who continue to have their lives blighted by horrifying injuries caused by these vile weapons. And we earnestly hope that those involved in the new policing arrangements will think about them too.

A fitting epitaph for Dominic Marron – and given that he endured more suffering even than any of the 17 victims killed by plastic bullets, he would surely agree if he could speak to us – would be that he was the last to die as a result of plastic bullets. But with so many minds and bodies broken by plastic bullets, and with so many plastic bullets in the hands of the British, such an epitaph will not be written for a very long time.

Four years ago we interviewed Dominic Marron as part of a series of articles on victims. There was no anger or bitterness in him, just a realisation that while he had managed to stay alive up to that point, his future was unclear. He said that he thought that he might need a by-pass some time soon; in one of his arms all feeling was gone and he had suffered coronary problems in the aftermath of the shooting. Sadly, his words proved to be poignantly prophetic and on Tuesday his tired and battered heart finally gave out.

Dominic's death certificate may read cardiac arrest, but the RUC man who fired that plastic bullet all those years ago killed him just as surely as if that 15-year-old schoolboy had never come out of his coma.



PSNI has Purchased 120,000 Plastic Bullets Since 2002
TOM News 16/09/04

The United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, Relatives for Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre will stage a ‘Money to Burn' Protest at Policing Board Headquarters today.

It has emerged that the PSNI has purchased 120,000 plastic bullets between early 2002 and August 2004.The information is contained in a letter from the PSNI to Relatives for Justice.

According to official statistics, 50,000 plastic bullets were purchased in 2002 (the first year where the Policing Board had statutory authority for policing) a further 50,000 were acquired in 2003 and 20,000 were acquired in 2004. 80,000 of this stock have been fired in training, though no plastic bullets have been used in public order incidents since September 2002.

Kathleen Duffy, whose 15 year old son, Seamus, was killed after an RUC officer fired a plastic bullet in 1989 has expressed surprise and anger that the PSNI continues to purchase and train with what is a confirmed child killer.

Ms Duffy said: "We welcome the fact that none have been fired for some time, but the news that the PSNI is still training and firing thousands of these lethal weapons will shock many relatives who have lost loved ones. Security Minister Jane Kennedy said last year that plastic bullets would be withdrawn by the end of 2003 but 70,000 have been purchased since she made this statement".

In a joint statement, the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, Relatives for Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre have called on the Policing Board to "do the decent thing and ban these weapons".

"As organisations which offer support to those who have lost relatives due to plastic bullets we are calling on members of the Policing Board to justify the £1 million* plus spent on plastic bullets since 2002. The Board has been responsible for policing here since November 2001 yet we can find no single instance where Board members have questioned this continuing expenditure on a weapon which has caused untold misery and loss in this community. Why has the Chief Constable not been called to account at Board meetings for this? Was this done on a nod and a wink basis between the Board and the PSNI?"

The three groups announced plans for a 'Money to Burn' protest at the entrance to the Policing Board HQ today at 12 noon. A million pounds of fake notes will be symbolically burnt by relatives and campaigners.

Rhona Toland, whose 11 year old nephew Stephen Mc Conomy was killed by a plastic bullet in 1982 in Derry said: "Stephen would have celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday. Instead he never even saw his 12th. For him and all the other relatives we are asking - we are demanding - that the Board does what the PSNI are refusing to do: announce an outright ban on plastic bullets.

"It is simply not good enough to say that none are being used at present. If they are not going to be used then why spend over a million pounds on purchase and training since 2002? Altnagelvin Hospital badly needs an air ambulance which would cost a million pounds. A&E departments have been closed in rural areas and some kids are still in pre-fab classrooms. There are so many better ways to spend a million pounds than on plastic bullets."

* A plastic bullet costs approximately £7 (parliamentary reply to Kevin Mc Namara MP).


120,000 plastic bullets @ £7 each (2002-2004) = £840,000 plus training time
Training: 80,000 units fired (2002-2004) at 10 minutes per expended unit = 13,333 hrs
Cost to PSNI: 13,333 hours @ an average of £13 per hour (mid-range trained officer, lower grade): £173,329

A conservative estimate of purchase & training since 2002: £1,013,329.

Since the Patten Report was published the RUC and PSNI have purchased 250,000 plastic bullets (1/4 of a million).

“The board can direct its staff to carry out reviews to ensure that the money provided by them to the police service has been used efficiently ” - Policing Board Annual Report (Page 30, 2001-2002).

“The policing board sees accountability for financial resources by those who use them as an important step in improving financial management of the police ” - Ibid (Page 28, 2001-2002).

Policing board principal activities: 'To set the budget for policing and monitor expenditure' - Ibid (Page 64, 2002-2003).

“Due to the significant shortfall in funding the Police service was unable to ‘balance the books' for 2002/2003, and as a result a forecast over spend of £15 million was declared at the start of the financial year” - Report of the Chief Constable 2002-2003.


The following are extracts from an article by Laura Friel
published in Sinn Féin News on 22nd September 2004:

More dangerous

The LA21 was introduced by the British Government to circumvent growing international recognition of the plastic bullet as a totally unacceptable lethal weapon. Official claims that the LA21 round was 'safer' were exposed after the British Government's own scientific assessment was leaked to the media.

Scientific tests carried out at Porton Down, the British Government's own research weapons centre, showed the LA21 was even more deadly than the model it was replacing. The spurious claim that it was 'safer' referred only to the fact that it was less likely to breach fire and was therefore 'safer' for the PSNI officer deploying the weapon.

The research was unequivocal about the greater danger the LA21 posed to the civilian target. Greater speed increased the accuracy and the greater power on impact. Tests showed the LA21 not only penetrated the skull on impact but also was likely to stay embedded. Tests revealed more serious fractures and more serious internal injuries than the plastic bullet it replaced.

Broken pledges

In 2003 British security minister Jane Kennedy said that plastic bullets would be withdrawn by the end of the year. On March 13 of that year Kennedy described the British Government as "very aware of the sensitivities" surrounding the use of plastic bullets. "Our objective is that the baton round would no longer be in use after the end of 2003," said the NIO Minister.

Since Kennedy's statement, over 70,000 more plastic bullets have been purchased by the PSNI. Earlier this year, the British minister reneged on her previous commitment and announced the intended introduction of yet another type of plastic bullet. Kennedy announced the development of the AEP, the Attenuated Energy Projectile. The minister said the weapon would be "available by the end of 2004" and "ready for full operational use before summer 2005".

New bullet on the way

The AEP is fired from the current plastic bullet gun. It is the same dimension as the LA21 except for a button top that makes it slightly longer. In June this year representatives from Relatives for Justice, the United Campaign against Plastic Bullets, the Pat Finucane Centre and the British Irish Rights Watch met the NIO's Police Reforms Division and were shown the newly developed AEP.

During the meeting, the NIO admitted that to be deployed in the summer of 2005, the AEP would need to be ordered by the PSNI in the autumn of 2004. The British officials acknowledged that this timetable was extremely tight and the research into the new model was not complete. It would be "a new and contentious" purchase, they said. It was accepted by the head of the Division, Robin Masefield, that even on the basis of the limited research carried out in relation to the new AEP, it would be dangerous if struck on the head.

Human rights issue

Commenting after the meeting, a spokesperson for the RFJ and plastic bullet campaigner Clara Reilly said it was "disgraceful" that the introduction of yet another plastic bullet "would even be countenanced when the research into and development process of the AEP is acknowledged as incomplete.

"There is a tendency by members of the NIO and the security apparatus to remove this issue from one of human rights to one of technology. They try to blind us with science. Plastic bullets may render many of their victims blind but they cannot do the same with the truth.

"The entire human rights community, including the United Nations Committee Against Torture and the Rights of the Child, have condemned the use of plastic bullets. They can be no place in a new police service that puts human rights at its heart," she said.

"There is no satisfactory outcome to the technology debate, which has even shifted its language from calling plastic bullet guns "non lethal weapons" to "less lethal". There are no impact assessments on children who are the most common and vulnerable victims of plastic bullets. There are no reports on ricochet effects, despite this having been a cause for concern since the development of the current LA21. No one interested in human rights and proper acceptable policing methods should be hoodwinked by this exercise," she concluded.



20 years on the fight continues... and plastic bullets remain
Andersonstown News 30/09/04

As a profile in courage, the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets – twenty years old this month – cannot be bettered.

But there are other words that equally touch on the calibre of the organisation: determination; tenacity; foresight; and, of course, truth.

Two decades after its formation, the group is still leading the charge and setting the agenda in relation to banning the use of lethal weapons as so-called ‘crowd-control mechanisms’.

And it is a testimony to the deep humanity and unwavering dignity of those linked with the United Campaign that their letters still force civil servants to swallow hard before answering, and that their phone calls still leave a withering knot in the stomachs of certain politicians.

In short, the United Campaign makes the government, the security services and their lackeys in wider society feel very nervous – a subversive organisation if ever there was one.

Speaking with Brenda Downes, Jim McCabe, Clara Reilly and Emma Groves this week however, it cannot be forgotten that the reason the United Campaign is still active is because tens of thousands of plastic bullets still rest in the armoury of the PSNI and British Army.

The facts are frightening.

•Seventeen people dead
•Hundreds maimed, many dying prematurely

Yet 120,000 plastic bullets have been purchased at almost £7 each in the past two and a half years.

A new plastic bullet with a small sponge on the end will be introduced next year – the same dimensions, the same gun, the same velocity.

Civil servants refuse to say that the new version would not kill a child.

Certain commentators point to the fact that the PSNI has not fired a plastic bullet in two years, as evidence of progress.

But the United Campaign’s ongoing activity suggests a lot more work needs to be done.

The group first came together following the shooting of Sean Downes at a range of three feet by RUC man Nigel Hegarty on August 12, 1984.

Des Wilson and others organised a public tribunal into the incident.

A few weeks later, a large public meeting was held at Conway Mill and those most closely affected by plastic and rubber bullets came together for the first time.

Meetings were held in different locations – such as Clara Reilly’s house.

But before it kicked in as a campaigning force, Jim McCabe says that the United Campaign was more of a support group than anything else.

“I found it hard to even leave the house after my wife Nora was killed in 1981, and then I got invited up to a meeting in Clara’s house.

“At the time of Nora’s death there were lots of people dying and I felt isolated. I didn’t feel able to talk about Nora’s death and the United Campaign gave me the comfort and support to talk with people in the same situation as me about our shared experiences.

“It was only after that I became interested in the campaigning side of things.”

The United Campaign have never raised their expectations about what to expect from the British government.

One key recollection that people share is the comment by the late Pat Finucane that “if there was no justice in Nora McCabe’s case, there never would be”.

Among the stalwarts of the United Campaign were Archie and Bernie Livingstone, whose 14 year-old daughter Julie was killed by a plastic bullet, and Kathleen Stewart, the mother of 13 year-old Brian who was killed in similar circumstances.

“I feel they and others should be given great credit for pursuing the campaign in very, very difficult circumstances,” said Jim.

“They did it at a time when you were at serious risk from arrest and harassment even going on a plane or carrying a plastic bullet to a meeting,” added Clara.

Everyone agreed that in the early days it was the humour of Archie, in particular, which kept spirits up, whether he was blessing onlookers from an open window in the Vatican or serenading young ladies who turned up at political meetings expecting a gung-ho Rambo from the heart of the Irish conflict.

Emma Groves was particularly critical of the role played by both the media and the Irish government down the years.

“The media always got the government version out first, that people who were shot had got what they deserved and it always took you an awful long time to put that right.

“As for the Irish government, they never wanted to know. They tried to be very nice but weren’t interested. They were always polite, but they were never really cared.

“They could talk all day about the Gaza Strip or South Africa, but they weren’t interested in what was happening 100 miles up the road,” said Emma.

“Plastic bullets didn’t just steal the lives of children or husbands or wives. They also stole the truth,” added Clara.

Brenda recalls in particular the occasion after the Warrington bomb when relatives travelled to Dublin to take part in a peace protest only to be verbally and physically abused.

“Julie Livingstone’s picture was spat upon. On another occasion a man came up to me during a picket in Dublin and asked where all these killings had happened and then told us we should keep it all in the North,” she said.

Such was the impact of the United Campaign that activists have regularly had their houses raided and family members arrested.

The late Kathleen Stewart even had teeth knocked out by a British Army patrol that attacked her on one occasion.

But it is the irony of Labour Party members in government now supporting the use of plastic bullets – after years of promises to the contrary – that really rankles.

“I remember Peter Hain even accompanying me to hand in a petition to Downing Street calling for the ban on plastic bullets, yet look where he is now,” recalled Jim.

Clara says that the friendships forged out of the campaign have been a driving force over the last twenty years.

But whether it was picketing the company in Scotland who made plastic bullets twenty years ago, or picketing the Policing Board for purchasing more plastic bullets in Belfast two weeks ago, it is clear that the United Campaign is still a force to be reckoned with.

The frequency with which her comrades complimented Brenda’s temper (good and bad), bears out the fact that – whatever else happens – the message of the United Campaign will always be heard.

Those murdered by plastic and rubber bullets can never be replaced, but there is a little girl called Nora McCabe who was two years old yesterday (Wednesday).

The legacy of the United Campaign is that the murder of her grandmother by the RUC in 1981 will not be forgotten.

Through the ongoing commitment, truth and courage of Brenda, Jim, Clara, Emma and many other campaigners, the United Campaign could easily keep going for another twenty years.

But all are agreed that – hopefully – that won’t be necessary…



John Downes - Former RUC officer's "Deep Shame"
TOM News 25/11/04

Yesterday's Irish News reported that a former RUC officer who was on duty the day John Downes was killed by a plastic bullet in west Belfast has lambasted the police operation.

Edmund Gregory is highly critical of his superiors' decision to baton charge a republican demonstration in an attempt to arrest US-based fundraiser Martin Galvin who was banned from the north.

John Downes was killed when he was struck in the chest at point-blank range by a plastic bullet in Andersonstown in the ensuing riot in August 1984.

In his memoir, Not Waving But Drowning, Mr Gregory describes the police actions as "stupid" and said the death left him feeling "deep shame".

Writing about the killing of Mr Downes, Mr Gregory describes the moment that a police snatch squad moved in:

"All hell broke loose. This was one of the most stupid operations I have ever seen in all my time as a policeman and one that I am not afraid to say filled me with deep shame."

Mr Gregory told the Irish News: "They (the Downes family) have my heartfelt sympathy. It was a peaceful parade. The crowd were in no way threatening."

An RUC officer was later acquitted of killing Mr Downes.


From Relatives For Justice:

John Downes, 23 years, Slievegallion Drive, Andersonstown, west Belfast, struck by a plastic bullet fired by a member of the RUC on 12 August 1984, while attending a demonstration in Andersonstown.

John Downes and Brenda, his wife, had only been married a year when he was killed. They had one child, a baby girl. Mrs Downes described her partner as a very friendly and sociable young man. He loved life and was always very considerate of others. The ‘type of fella who wouldn't pass a dog getting beat,' she said.

On Sunday 12 August 1985, John and Brenda Downes and their baby daughter had gone to the annual anti-internment march on the Falls Road. Although the British authorities had phased out internment in 1975, the event was still marked every year around the 9 August, the date it was introduced in 1971. The marchers gathered at Dunville Park and at 2.50 pm they began making their way up the Falls Road towards Andersonstown. It was a warm sunny day as the marchers made their way along the Falls Road.

Men, women and children all joined the march, which took nearly an hour to reach its' destination outside Sinn Fein's Connolly House on the Andersonstown Road. There was a large attendance of NORAID delegates from the USA, Troops Out supporters from Britain and scores of journalists from the print and television media.

In the early years of the commemoration the route of the march had been down the Falls Road, ending with speeches at Dunville Park. However, in 1980 the Sinn Féin organisers of the march decided to change this, and from that date onwards the march made its way up the Falls Road towards Andersonstown. The reason for the change in 1980 was because the closeness of Springfield Road joint RUC/British Army Barracks to the final rallying point at Dunville Park. The proximity of the Crown force barrack usually led to trouble between its occupants and youths when the marchers were dispersing.

The expressed policy of the organisers of the march in 1984 was to avoid any trouble or confrontation with the RUC or the British Army and to that aim numerous stewards were deployed along the route.

When the marchers finally approached their destination in Andersonstown an unusually large number of RUC members wearing body armour, carrying plastic bullet guns, and backed-up by nearly thirty armoured vehicles positioned in the immediate area around Connolly House, while a substantial number of British soldiers also lined the route of the procession.

The organisers suspected the heavy military presence was to prevent Martin Galvin, of the US support group NORAID, from making an appearance at the rally, and possibly to arrest him. Mr Galvin had been forbidden by a British Government exclusion order from entering the North of Ireland some days earlier. Although the organisers feared the Crown forces might attempt to arrest Mr Galvin if he appeared they did not contemplate they (Crown forces) would make a major assault on the protesters in such a case.

Shortly before the procession arrived at Connolly House RUC members on the road in front of the building fired a number of plastic bullets at young people on the roof of a supermarket after several missiles were thrown. They also fired plastic bullets, without provocation, into the head of the procession as it approached the rallying point. The situation was brought under control following appeals by the stewards to senior RUC officers to stop their members firing plastic bullets.

When the bulk of the marchers eventually reached Connolly House many of them sat on the ground to listen to the various speakers. While they sat and listened scores of RUC members clad in riot gear began to encircle them. After the main speeches Mr Galvin was introduced and as he climbed on to the platform many of the marchers stood up and cheered. The stewards' appealed for the people to sit down again and let the photographers stand, but suddenly, and without warning, the RUC opened fire with plastic bullet guns. They fired their weapons indiscriminately into the crowd and drove armoured vehicles towards the platform at Connolly House. RUC members using truncheons also beat their way through the terrified spectators, while another RUC party smashed their way into the back of Connolly House.

John Downes had been standing on the footpath on the other side of the road facing Connolly House. Witnessing the brutality of the RUC mercilessly beating people, old and young, as they stood or cowered on the ground, and unable to contain his anger he ran to their assistance. However, even before he reached the opposite side of the road an RUC member fired his plastic bullet gun at him at point-blank range, hitting him on the chest. The force of the impact stopped Mr Downes, and immediately another RUC member pushed him into the midst of the group of people he had rushed to help. As he lay dying on the ground first aid was administered, but the bullet crushed his chest and he died where he fell.

Many other people were badly injured, all the plastic bullets being fired from distances far less than the British Army's own recommended guidelines.

The events of that day were captured by scores of photographers and film crews. A television crew recorded the killing of John Downes, in all its horrifying detail. The British Government rejected calls for a public inquiry. The Northern Ireland Department of Public Prosecutions later decided to charge Nigel Hegerty, the RUC member who fired the fatal bullet, with manslaughter.

When Hegerty's trial took place in 1985 Mrs Downes was not informed. She had been on holiday at the time but a friend, who had heard it reported on the news, went to the hearing. Nearly all the witnesses were members of the RUC who when giving evidence read from prepared statements. Hegerty was not called to give evidence. The Crown accepted his statement. The Crown in their case did not call all the available evidence or even the evidence necessary to clarify what happened. Hegerty in his statement said he fired his weapon because he believed his life and those of his colleagues were in danger. Judge Hutton, the trial judge, said he believed Hegerty's and the RUC version of the events. Judge Hutton, who later became Lord Chief Justice, also accepted there was a riot. Hegerty was acquitted.

Indignation at what many people viewed as a public execution increased following Hegerty's acquittal. This, and the continued refusal of the British authorities to establish an independent inquiry, led the people of west Belfast to set up there own public inquiry. The findings of this inquiry were published in 1988 in a booklet called ‘The Best Documented Killing.'

Shortly before Christmas 1988, Mrs Downes received amongst her mail a notice from the authorities asking her to go to Belfast City Hall. The notice informed her that she had to sign a document to receive a death certificate for her husband. This was unusual given an inquest into the killing had still not been held. Mrs Downes' solicitor took the matter to court. The court ruled that an inquest would not take place as it considered the matter closed following the acquittal of Hegerty. To date Mrs Downes has still not received a death certificate for her husband, never mind an inquest hearing.

No Further charges were brought against any RUC members in connection with the death of John Downes.



Criticism of RUC operation welcomed
Irish News 25/11/04

The widow of a plastic bullet victim last night welcomed a former RUC officer's criticism of the police operation on the day her husband was killed.

But Brenda Downes said comments by former constable Edmund Gregory in his book, Not Waving But Drowning, were "nothing I didn't already know".

Her husband Sean, a former republican prisoner also known as John, was killed in 1984 after being struck in the chest by a plastic bullet when a riot broke out as police tried to arrest US-based fundraiser Martin Galvin, who was banned from the north.

In his book, Mr Gregory described police actions in Andersonstown, west Belfast, that day as "stupid" and said the death of Mr Downes left him feeling deep shame.

On duty that day, Mr Gregory said in his book: "All hell broke loose. This was one of the most stupid operations I have seen in all my time as a policeman.

"I mentally recalled all the shots I had fired, trying to eliminate myself but I knew full well these things are so bloody inaccurate that the fatal shot could have been anyone's.

"To make matters worse, as the shot had apparently been fired at point-blank range, it could be construed as murder."

Another policeman was later acquitted of killing Mr Downes.

In an interview in yesterday's Irish News Mr Gregory accused senior police of trying to absolve themselves of any blame for what happened that day.

Last night Brenda Downes told of her anger that murder charges have not been brought, adding that police should still be held accountable.

"Any exposure is to be welcomed, though anyone who was present on that day remembers vividly recalling the news media describing the event as a police riot," she said.

"Concerned families of previous plastic bullet deaths and community activists were so enraged at the blatant killing of John Downes and the serious injuries inflicted on peaceful demonstrators, that at a subsequent public meeting the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets was formed.

"Edmund Gregory is telling me nothing I didn't already know for the past 20 years.
"The reference to my husband being a former republican prisoner – as if this justified his killing – was the most hurtful.

"So too were the reports of prisoners being held in Castlereagh on the day John was murdered who reported back to us that Special Branch expressed pleasure and joy at news of the killing."

Mrs Downes added: "We are all aware that another lethal plastic bullet is due to be introduced in January 2005 without any consultation or proper research and this is not what we were promised by Patten nor the new beginning to policing.

"I pose the question: Who is responsible for the purchase of these new weapons? Is it Hugh Orde or the Policing Board?"





Children’s commissioner calls for stop on 50,000 plastic bullet order
Daily Ireland 25/02/05

The PSNI is about to purchase a huge batch of the controversial new plastic bullet, despite objections from the Children’s Commissioner and victims’ groups.

The new bullets - referred to as the Attenuated Energy Projectile (AEP) - are effectively a traditional plastic bullet with sponge on the end.

They will continue to be fired from the same guns at the same velocity as the current plastic bullets but require PSNI members to be re-trained.

The new AEP plastic bullet will be introduced by the British Army in the North, as well as by police forces throughout Britain in coming months.

The purchase is imminent and it is understood the PSNI believes it does not require authority for the move from the Policing Board.

Up to 50,000 of the new AEP plastic bullets could be purchased by the PSNI at a cost of approximately £7 each.

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde will give a presentation about the plan to the Policing Board next Wednesday, 2 March. However, it’s believed the introduction of the AEP is a fait accompli as the Chief Constable has the power to purchase in any event.

Hugh Orde

The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner Nigel Williams wrote to the Policing Board yesterday expressing concern that the medical assessment of AEPs has not specifically focused on the impact on children.

Kathleen Duffy, mother of Seamus - the last child killed by a plastic bullet - described the purchase as “disgraceful”.

“If this goes ahead, anyone on the Policing Board who is sincere about securing human rights must resign,” she said.

Plastic Bullet

Relatives for Justice spokesperson Clara Reilly said that the issue raises “very serious questions for the Policing Board”.

“Be under no illusions, these new weapons are plastic bullets, still a lethal weapon and every bit as capable of diminishing lives and breaching human rights,” she said.

Paul O’Connor of the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre said that Policing Board members should resign if the PSNI buys the new bullets.

“It is our view that no democratic policing structures can evolve where plastic bullets remain part of the policing armoury,” he said. “This is an issue of such gravity that we would expect those on the Policing Board who have a genuine concern for human rights to make it clear that this is a resigning matter.”

The Children’s Law Centre Director Paddy Kelly called on Hugh Orde to defer the decision “until such time as fully independent medical research informs the PSNI and the Policing Board about the consequences of using such missiles when children are present”.

A PSNI spokesperson confirmed the issue of AEPs is currently being considered.


17 reasons for banning plastic bullets
Irish News 07/04/05

By Jim Gibney

Frank Rowntree (11) April 1972, Tobias Molloy (18) July 1972, Thomas Friel (21) May 1973, Stephen Geddis (10) August 1975, Brian Stewart (13) October 1976, Michael Donnelly (21) August 1980, Paul Whitters (15) April 1981, Julie Livingstone (14) May 1981, Carol Ann Kelly (12) May 1981, Henry Duffy (45) May 1981, Nora McCabe (30) July 1981, Peter Doherty (33) July 1981, Peter Mc Guinness (41) August 1981, Stephen McConomy, (11) April 1982, Sean Downes (23) August 1984, Keith White (20) April 1986, Seamus Duffy (15) August 1989.

All innocent. All dead. Killed by rubber and plastic bullets.

Seventeen reasons why plastic bullets should be immediately banned.

Seventeen reasons why the Policing Board should not have voted two weeks ago for the PSNI to acquire these deadly weapons.

Seventeen reasons why the SDLP, the Catholic hierarchy and the Irish government should have refused to endorse the PSNI until plastic bullets were banned.

Plastic bullets have been used here for one reason only: to strike fear into the population.

They are a blunt and brutal instrument in the hands of British state forces who have no respect or regard for the people they fire them at, mainly nationalists.

Of the 17 killed 10 were children.

Over 100,000 rubber and plastic bullets have been fired since they were introduced onto the streets of Belfast in August 1970.

In addition to those killed hundreds of nationalists have been maimed for life.

A number of people were blinded in both eyes, some suffer brain damage others are crippled. Only six weeks ago Emma Groves, blinded by a rubber bullet in 1971, died. A mother of 11 children she tirelessly campaigned for the banning of plastic bullets.

This is this bullet’s human legacy.

Those who were killed were hit on the head from point blank range or hit on the chest.

Those who fired the fatal shot were members of the British army or the RUC. They broke their own regulations doing so.

Only one RUC man has ever been charged with a killing, that of Sean Downes, and he was acquitted.

Plastic bullets have become one of the most corrosive and corrupting influences on what passes for politics in the six counties.

Once fired, a plastic bullet wreaks devastation not only for the person injured or killed and their family but for society as a whole.

The pattern of corruption has been well established. It was revealed in the mid-nineties in a document presented by Artur Fegan to senator George Mitchel on behalf of the United Campaign of Plastic Bullets.

Immediately after a plastic bullet has been fired a cover-up begins, involving the state, its political establishment and elements of the media.

The person who fires the bullet provides a self-serving account to protect himself. His superior officer supports his story.

The British Secretary of State backs up the version.

Anguished families seek justice in the only court left open to them, a coroner’s court. Those who killed their loved ones refuse to attend. No one compels them to attend. They send self-serving statements. Statements can’t be cross-examined.

The legal system ignores the voice of the injured party. A precedent has been set: immunity for those who kill with plastic bullets.

For the families of those killed the injustice of the killings is made worse by the legal system’s failure to establish the truth.

The SDLP promised they would make a change when they joined the Policing Board.

But plastic bullets now cast a shadow over them. They are part of a Policing Board which purchased 100,000 plastic bullets in 2002-03. It doesn’t stop there. Denis Bradley, vice chair of the Policing Board, told an international law conference that people who demanded plastic bullets be banned were living in “cloud cuckoo land.”

A land without plastic bullets was promised to us.

You used to live there Denis. So did the SDLP.



Plastic Bullets have no place in new era of peace building
TOM News 26/09/05

The United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, supported by Relatives for Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre, responded to today’s announcement of decommissioning by the IRA by calling on the British Government to use this opportunity to remove plastic bullets from their own armouries.

Jim McCabe whose wife Nora was killed by a plastic bullet in 1981 said today: “These historic moments of brave steps forward in the peace process must be seized in the interests of our future generations and ensuring human rights for all.

“In the memory of the 17 dead, and in recognition of the hundreds from across the community who have been mutilated, plastic bullets must be removed immediately. There has never been a more opportune time for the British Government to make this move. The current Secretary of State knows what an evil weapon they are, and the terrible potential for civilian casualties they create. Peter Hain personally accompanied me to Downing Street to hand in a petition calling for a ban of plastic bullets while John Major was Prime Minister.

“They have no place in a new era of peace building. We call on Peter Hain to move today and remove plastic bullets for good.”



New Plastic Bullets Report
TOM News 10/01/06

The highly impressive 2006 report on Plastic Bullets by British Irish Rights Watch 'Plastic Bullets: A Human Rights Perspective' can be viewed on their website at



Hopes for End of Plastic Bullet Use
TOM News 12/01/07

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has said he does not want his officers to have to use plastic bullets again, but he said that as chief constable he retained the right to use the weapon.

Seventeen people, including nine children, were killed by rubber and plastic bullets and many more were blinded and maimed.

The weapons were often fired directly at people's heads or chests in breach of guidelines for their use.

Mr Orde admitted last night that some of the 14 people killed by plastic bullets (17 including rubber bullets) during the most recent conflict in Ireland were innocent.

The widespread use of these weapons at funerals, commemorations and public protests is one of the reasons why republicans mistrust the PSNI.

Responding to Mr Orde's comments, Sinn Féin Assembly member Mitchel McLaughlin said: "There should be a total ban on plastic bullets.

"Between 1970 and 2005 almost 126,000 rubber and plastic bullets were fired. This weapon has killed 17 people - including 9 children.

"They were deliberately used against peaceful protestors and mourners attending funerals.

"In 1981 alone the RUC fired almost 30,000 plastic bullets killing 7 people, three of whom were children. Thousands more were injured.

"The purchase of plastic bullets by the Policing Board in recent years is an explicit approval of their use.

"For decades Sinn Féin has worked with victims and human rights groups to see an end to their use on our streets. We will continue to do so.

"Sinn Féin has recently held a number of meetings with PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde specifically on the issue of plastic bullets.We welcome the commitment not to use these weapons in crowd control or public order situations. Hugh Orde's acknowledgement of the hurt resulting from injuries and deaths of innocent people, including children, is also welcome.

"These weapons should never be used again."

Clara Reilly of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets said Mr Orde's comments were a very welcome and significant development.

"But this is only the first step in addressing the legacy of impunity that surrounds all of these killings. We now need the full truth about all of these killings," she said.

As Sinn Féin considers whether to proceed with a special Ard Fheis on policing, Mr Orde claimed the best way of avoiding the future use of plastic bullets was for politicians to engage in policing.



Statement ‘only the beginning’
Irish News 13/01/07

Families of those killed by rubber and plastic bullets last night called for investigations into each of the 17 deaths – after Chief Constable Hugh Orde admitted “innocent” people had been killed by them.

Relatives of those who lost their lives – who ranged from ages 10 to 45 – welcomed comments made by the PSNI chief, although they said his words did not “go far enough”.

The families were speaking after Mr Orde said he had “no desire” to use so-called baton rounds in future – but would do so in situations where live rounds were the only other alternative.

Kathleen Duffy’s 15-year-old son Seamus was killed when he was hit by a plastic bullet in the chest in 1989, the last person to be kiled by the weapon.

The teenager’s mother, from the New Lodge area of north Belfast, described Mr Orde’s statement as “movement” but said it “doesn’t go far enough”.

“When there is a complete disbandment of plastic bullets, I think that’s when our work will be done,” she said.

“He has admitted innocent people were killed. At the end of the day no-one was ever brought to justice. Is the person who killed my son, are they still in the PSNI? If they are, they have no place in the justice system.”

Jim Rowntree’s 11-year-old brother Francis was killed after he was hit by a rubber bullet in the head. The young boy had been walking along Lower Clonard Street in west Belfast in April 1972.

“My brother died in 1972 in broad daylight,” said Mr Rowntree.

“He had a distinctive hair colour and could not have been mistaken for a terrorist.

“I would call for investigations into the 17 deaths. I would like to know why there were no arrests.”

Mr Rowntree said his family deserved an official apology.

“This is the first time it has been recognised that he was an innocent child,” he said.

“Why did no-one contact my mother to say they were sorry? I don’t know if it would help her. It would be the proper thing to do.”

Jim McCabe, from the Springfield Road in west Belfast, was left to rear three young children when his wife Nora (30) was killed by a plastic bullet which struck her in the head in the Linden Street area of the Falls Road in July 1981.

Whilst welcoming Hugh Orde’s comments, Mr McCabe also said the next step was to say sorry for the lives lost.

“I would call for the cases to be reopened and reinvestigated,” he said.

“That will show how genuine they are.

“We don’t want remarks that it is regrettable innocent people were killed. We want genuine efforts made so it ensures the families can move a step towards closure.”

Brenda Downes, from west Belfast, whose husband John was killed by a plastic bullet in 1984, also described Mr Orde’s comments as “movement” but said it was “only the beginning”.



Injuries get worse with new ‘bullets’
Irish News 05/02/07

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 Northern Ireland.

A study by doctors from emergency departments has found that the new attenuated energy projectile (AEP), which should not be aimed above the waist, left one third of patients with injuries to the head and neck and 17 per cent to the chest.

The 14 (sic - 17) deaths from rubber or plastic bullets in the north have all resulted from head or chest trauma.

Research showed the former bullet, the L21A1, did not cause any face, head or neck injuries.

However, that was removed because of the theoretical risk of serious head damage.

“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.”

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.



Police Ombudsman Reports on Plastic Bullet killing
TOM News 16/04/07

In 2003 the Pat Finucane Centre accompanied the Whitters family to a meeting with the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, to lodge a complaint regarding the shooting of their son Paul by RUC Constable David Galway in Derry in 1981. The family was deeply concerned at the actions of the RUC on the day and the justification offered for the shooting by Inspector Robert Andrew Boyd who ordered his subordinate to open fire.

The family was also of the view that no proper investigation was carried out by Inspector Kenneth Mc Farland. At a press conference today (16 April 2007) Nuala O'Loan announced that her office had substantiated the majority of the complaints made in relation to the case. Though she could find no new evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the intention had been to kill Paul her office did decide that the killing was unjustified and wrong. This investigation also found that a number of civilian witnesses had come forward but the investigating officer had failed to take statements from them. She rejected the claim of the investigating officer that the civilians had been unwilling to cooperate. No proper investigation was carried out. The subsequent decisions by the prosecution service and the findings of the Coroner can no longer be relied upon since both were based on a flawed and professionaly incompetent investigation.

The following link leads to the OPONI statement on the case and the family response as read out by Paul's sister Emma at the press conference.


Statement from the family of Paul Whitters in response to the report of the Police Ombudsman
16th April 2007

On 15 April 1981 Paul was with a small group of teenagers who were throwing stones at the upper windows of a business premises in Great James Street in Derry. Paul was 15 years old. There was sporadic rioting in the city linked to the ongoing hunger strikes in the H-blocks of Long Kesh prison.

A group of RUC officers on riot duty were stationed inside a nearby bakery. At approximately 8.30pm an RUC inspector gave the order to a constable to fire a plastic bullet at Paul. He was struck on the head and was subsequently dragged into the bakery by the RUC. Paul was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital and later transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he remained on a life support machine for ten days. The most painful decision of our life came when our permission was sought to switch off the life support machine and finally to give Paul release. He died on 25 April 1981.

In 2003 we lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office. We welcome the findings and believe that our persistent search for answers has been vindicated. This process has brought some consolation for us. We do not intend to pursue this any further and precisely for this reason we wish to put a number of issues on public record.

The Ombudsman has found that Paul was shot at under the minimum permissible range for firing plastic bullets. They have found that he did not pose a serious threat to persons or property and could have been arrested. The Ombudsman also found that no proper investigation was carried out, civilian witnesses were not sought nor did the RUC approach us until December. Furthermore, contradictions in police evidence were left unchallenged.

As a family, we would like to clarify certain issues. The failure to investigate the shooting of Paul was extensive. There are numerous examples of this but we will briefly highlight only three:

Firstly, the RUC inspector who interviewed the constable who shot Paul had, by his own admission, failed to read any of the civilian statements before questioning the constable. This meant the inspector was in no position to thoroughly question a colleague responsible for the death of a child. (PFC note-this is a reference to another Inspector who had no other involvement in the case)

Secondly, central to this case was the positioning of a lorry that had been delivering bread to the bakery as a supposed threat to the lorry was cited as a reason for firing. The Ombudsman refutes the claim that the lorry was under threat. Whilst the inspector who gave the order to shoot maintained the lorry driver was inside the bakery during the disturbance no civilian accounts corroborate this and, indeed, the lorry driver related a different version of events. There was never any attempt made to resolve these crucial discrepancies. We feel that because these matters were not investigated, it is self evident that the file sent to the DPP was inaccurate, incomplete and unprofessional. The subsequent decisions not to prosecute must therefore be regarded as unsafe and his judgement questionable.

Thirdly, no proper procedure that might be expected regarding the gun used to shoot Paul were followed. The Ombudsman’s Office tracked the gun to Magilligan camp where it was being used as a test weapon.

Another major concern of ours has been the refusal of retired officers to cooperate with the Ombudsman’s investigation. The Ombudsman’s report suggests to us that there was less than complete cooperation from all officers involved. We find it ironic that people whose careers are based on asking questions of others should then refuse to answer questions which would give us clarification. Our family did not embark on this process in the belief that it would result in a prosecution but after so many years we have come to question the separation of law and state when it comes to state violence. The lack of prosecutions regarding deaths from plastic bullets reinforces these misgivings.

We stated above that we do not wish to pursue Paul’s case any further. This report has indeed brought a degree of solace to us and for this we are sincerely grateful to Nuala O’Loan and her staff who have been sensitive, professional and courteous in all their dealings with us. We feel these findings highlight the need for such an office to exist.

We are also indebted to the Pat Finucane Centre for their unwavering support through this difficult period. It is unfortunate that it has taken 26 years for a family to experience the type of investigation and approach that should be expected following the death of a child.

We would like to take this opportunity to remember all victims of plastic bullets. Today is the 16 April and we remember another child, eleven year old Stephen McConomy, who was shot by a plastic bullet on this day in 1982 and died three days later.



Army used ‘far more lethal plastic bullets’
Irish News 18/04/07

The family of a plastic bullet victim has added its voice to calls for a public inquiry into the news that the British army used more powerful plastic bullets than police in the early 1980s.

An investigation by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan has uncovered documentation indicating that British soldiers used the more powerful weapon from 1981 onwards while failing to modify their rules of engagement accordingly.

The period involved covers the killing of six people with plastic bullets fired by British soldiers in 1981 and 1982.

In her report to the family of Derry plastic bullet victim Paul Whitters (shot by police in 1981) earlier this week Mrs O’Loan said her investigation had uncovered documentation from October 1981.

She said it revealed that a more powerful plastic bullet was in use at that time by British soldiers but had not been issued to the RUC.

At the time, both police officers and soldiers were ordered not to fire plastic bullets from a distance less than 20 metres unless to protect the safety of officers.

Both Derry based human rights’ group the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Relatives for Justice (RFJ) are now demanding a high level inquiry into the revelations.

Paul O’Connor of the PFC said despite the fact that soldiers were allowed to use a more lethal weapon, they were allowed to operate under the same rules of engagement as police. Mr O’Connor said the revelation needed an explanation.

“We believe that the only way this can be resolved is if a senior legal figure, a barrister, acceptable to the families is given full sight of all relevant documentation and reports back to the families.”

A spokeswoman for Relatives for Justice said the group intended discussing the new revelations with the families involved.

The spokeswoman said RFJ would fully support calls for an independent review.

Rhona McConomy, whose nephew, Stephen (11), was killed by a plastic bullet fired in April 1981 said she was shocked by the revelation.

“We as a family would give our full backing to calls for an inquiry. It’s disgraceful that even after 25 years we are still only receiving a drip,drip of information about what might be the circumstances of Stephen’s death.”

A spokesman for the British Army said more time would be needed to investigate the documentation uncovered by the ombudsman.

The spokesman said it was a “myth” that soldiers were not accountable in their use of baton rounds and said army guidelines were framed by criminal law.

He added that police could investigate cases where complaints of criminal behaviour by soldiers were received.

“The armed forces are accountable to the law. Should anyone have cause for complaint, representations should be made to the appropriate authorities,” he said.



Remembering one of Ireland’s bravest daughters
Andersonstown News 15/06/07

When the news broke of the death of 86-year-old Emma Groves on April 2, 2007, tributes started to pour in from around the world acknowledging her as an outstanding woman of our time.

A lady of great courage, dignity and compassion, she led the campaign to have plastic bullets banned for over three decades, travelling the world to tell her story and highlighting the impact of plastic bullets and the carnage they caused.

Born in 1920 in the Loney area of the Lower Falls, her sense of fairness was evident when, at only 19, she campaigned to set up a trade union in one of the Belfast mills she worked in, and in her support of the Civil Rights movement.

She met and married Billy Groves in 1944 and they lived in the Groves family home in Boundary Street.

They eventually settled in Tullymore Gardens, Andersonstown, rearing a large family of three sons and nine daughters.

Sorrow and heartbreak was to visit the family in 1960 when their six-year-old son, Bill, was tragically killed in a road traffic accident.

In 1971 the paratroopers put the area where Emma lived under curfew and no one was allowed in or out.

Emma, who was only 50 years of age at the time, witnessed the soldiers pulling young men and boys from their homes and treating them very badly.

She pulled up her Venetian blind and asked one of her daughters to put on a record to boost up their morale.

As the strains of ‘Four Green Fields’ filled the air, a paratrooper stepped in front of the window and fired a rubber bullet directly into Emma’s face.

The result was devastating.

Blood splattered the walls while the children, the youngest only five-years-old, screamed in hysterics.

Billy Groves threw a towel over his wife’s face and attempted to get her out of the house and into a car to get her to hospital.

The soldiers refused to let them leave the district and it was only when the towel was removed to reveal the horrific injuries that they allowed them to proceed.

At the hospital Emma’s eyes were so badly damaged they had to be removed.

None of the family could bring themselves to break the devastating news and it was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was visiting the hospital at the time, who told Emma she would never see again.

Emma also faced months of plastic surgery to build up the bridge of her nose, which had shattered with the impact of the plastic bullet.

At home, Emma went into deep depression and it was the oldest children who took over the role of mother and housekeeper to the rest of the family.

With the help of family and friends, Emma slowly came to terms with her blindness.

The rubber bullet was eventually replaced by the plastic bullet and many children were being killed and injured.

Emma headed up the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets when it was formed in 1984.

She addressed the European Parliament and travelled to Moscow and across the United Stated demanding that the international community bring Britain to account for their indiscriminate use of this lethal weapon against civilians.

She campaigned right into her eighties, bringing her case for an end to the use of plastic bullets to the all-party negotiations and to Secretaries of State and to the Irish government.

Emma was also a founder member of Relatives For Justice and the work carried out across the North is based on her values that every family deserves compassion and support and that the authorities must be held accountable to ensure that it is received.

She lived a life that was dedicated to her family and her community, providing inspiration to all of us involved in the pursuit of human rights, truth and justice.

Known as the First Lady of Andersonstown, she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with many families in their hour of need.

She was a dedicated Irishwoman and instilled in her children, and in the community around her, a great sense of their own worth.

She was also a woman of deep faith and conviction and it was that faith that allowed her to forgive the soldier who blinded her, even though she never knew his name.

Her family supported and sustained her during those difficult years and they faced the battle with the same courage and determination that make them the strong family they are today.

At her funeral service her daughter, Brenda, described her mother as the eternal optimist with her positive approach about people in general. “Always look for the good in someone and you’ll find it”; “God never closes a door but he opens a window”; “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all”.

Emma’s greatest regret over the years was not being able to see the faces of her 42 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren.

But she knew every one of their voices and her face would light up when they came to visit.

Emma was robbed of her sight but not her vision.

She knew that our entire community could be policed better without these weapons of death and destruction.

She had faith that a peace process based on equality and justice for all would deliver a better future and would cherish all of its children.

We who knew her were blessed.

It was said we will never see her like again.

Ireland has lost one of her bravest daughters and all of us who knew and loved her have lost our mentor, companion and dearest friend.

Rest easy now, Emma, you have finally come out of the darkness and into the light.

Ní bheidh a leithéid arís
Clara Reilly



The murder of Nora McCabe
Léargas blogspot 30/04/10

By West Belfast MP, Gerry Adams

Nora McCabe was murdered almost 29 years ago on July 9th 1981. She was shot in the back of the head at close range by a plastic bullet fired from an RUC armoured landrover. She died the next day in hospital from her injuries.

It was the same morning Joe McDonnell died on hunger strike.

Nora was aged 33 and the mother of three young children, the youngest three months old. Over the years I have met her husband Jim many times. He is a quiet but very determined man who never gave up on getting the truth. Jim knew what happened, but as in so many other similar incidents, the RUC and the Director of Public Prosecutions office embarked on a cover up of the circumstances in order to protect the RUC personnel responsible for Nora’s murder.

At the inquest in November 1982 several RUC people gave evidence, including James Critchley who was the senior RUC officer in west Belfast at the time. He was in one of the armoured vehicles. The RUC claimed that there were barricades on the Falls Road, that there were rioters and that they fired two plastic bullets when petrol bombs were thrown at them.

In their account there were hijacked and burning vehicles on the road and beer barrels and debris strewn around.

Pat Finucane, whose murder was covered up in much the same manner as Nora’s, was representing the McCabe family. At the inquest he was given a video filmed by a Canadian TV film crew who were on the Falls Road that morning. When he tried to introduce it as evidence the inquest was adjourned. It did not reconvene until one year later.

The video was then played to the inquest and it entirely disproved the evidence given by the RUC witnesses. There were no rioters, no barricades, no burning vehicles. Crucially it did show the RUC landrover turn toward Linden Street where Nora McCabe was walking and a plastic bullet being fired.

The inquest jury found that Nora was an innocent victim. But the DPP decided not to prosecute the RUC officers involved. The RUC sergeant who fired the deadly bullet and the senior officer who ordered him to fire are now both dead.

Last year Jim initiated a judicial review into the decision not to prosecute anyone. He wanted that decision quashed.

Last week the court accepted that there were significant factual conflicts between the evidence of the RUC witnesses and the film evidence.

The judge said that consideration ought to have been given to charging the RUC witnesses with perjury. But he accepted that the DPP had the legal right to take the decision.

Speaking afterwards Jim said he felt vindicated in taking the case. The court had accepted Nora’s innocence and the authenticity of the tape. The lies of the RUC witnesses had been exposed.

Jim also spoke of the difficulties he and his children had encountered. And he acknowledged that many other families had suffered similar experiences.

Between 1970 when they were first introduced, almost 100,000 rubber and plastic bullets were fired up to 1981. In that year alone 30,000 were fired. 17 people, 8 of them children, were killed and thousands of people were injured. Some of them, like Emma Groves who was blinded, were permanently disabled.

Plastic bullets are lethal weapons. They should be banned.

Jim McCabe is one of our unsung heroes. He reared his young family while pursuing truth and justice for his wife Nora. I am sure there were times when grief, anger and frustration must have threatened to overwhelm him. But he never gave up. He persisted. And this week he prevailed.



Plastic Bullet use - PSNI are Continuity RUC
TOM News 07/07/10


AEP (Attenuating Energy Projectile) baton rounds fired by the PSNI during disturbances on Saturday night (03/07/10) at the Broadway roundabout on the M1 motorway in west Belfast resulted in two people being injured, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy.

The AEP was issued in June 2005 and was designed to be accurate, safer and reduce the injury potential compared with the plastic baton round. The PSNI’s Code of Practice on the Use of AEPs states “every effort should be made to ensure that children are not placed at risk by the firing of AEPs”.

Have the PSNI not learnt anything from their predecessors (RUC) whose legacy is one of complete recklessness regarding the use of plastic and rubber bullets that lead directly to the deaths of seventeen people, eight of whom were children?

Injuries sustained by the use of these weapons ranged from brain damage, loss of sight, fractured jaws, multiple bone fractures and spinal injuries.

Is it now a case of history repeating itself i.e. tear up the rule book and start as you mean to go on?

Josephine Larmour
Belfast 11



Rubber Bullets: Truth Exposed
Derry Journal 11/06/13

The Journal today reveals the extraordinary lengths the British government went to to ensure the shocking truth about rubber bullets remained under wraps.

Declassified confidential documents from the 1970s reveal that British officials not only knew rubber bullets could be lethal but that the testing of the weapon had taken place “in a shorter time than was ideal.”

The revelations are contained in a series of official papers relating to the compensation case of local man, Richard Moore, who was blinded by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier in 1972. Richard was aged just ten years old when he lost his sight.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) later settled the case with the Moore family out of court for £68,000 - a figure mentioned in the papers as a “rock bottom price.”

The documentation was unearthed recently in London’s Public Records Office by the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre.

Correspondence between British officials appears to indicate that the authorities had been in such a hurry to develop ‘riot control weapons’ in the early 1970s that they rushed through the testing of rubber bullets.

The papers also reveal that officials feared Richard Moore’s legal team might seek disclosure of certain background documents detailing the safety of rubber bullets - reports that would reveal the weapon had not been adequately tested.

One particularly damning document reveals that “... the Ministry was aware that it could be lethal” but that this was accepted “in order to give the Army a riot control weapon of lower lethality than the SLR [self-loading rifle] in the shortest possible time.”

Such a public revelation, the letter’s author acknowledges, could prove damaging.

Another document asks in relation to Mr. Moore’s case: “Would disclosure of these documents, and examination of an MOD witness in court, be so damaging to MOD interests that in your view the case should be settled at almost any cost?”

More documentation reads: “Now that we know that our documents relating to rubber bullets are all subject to discovery, [named MoD division] has no hesitation in recommending that we attempt to settle out of court. From earlier soundings, I believe that this view will now be shared by other MOD divisions.”

It continues: “If an attempt to settle is to be made, we should instruct out lawyers within 48 hours so that we can avoid, if possible, the production of documents.”

Richard Moore, founder of the Children in Crossfire charity, said he was “surprised and saddened” when informed of the content of the documents.

He said: “I was a 10-year-old boy blinded by a rubber bullet and to know that people at a government level tried to cover things up and withhold information is a shock.”

“The state has a responsibility to look after its citizens and its children. They have to be responsible, and, clearly, the state wasn’t taking responsibility here.”

“For me, personally, it’s over,” Mr. Moore added. “It doesn’t change how I feel, though. I have no anger, no hatred; I have dealt with the blindness and dealt with being shot. I hope this helps others affected by rubber bullets and, for them, I hope, somehow, this can begin a new process of honesty and openness that they deserve.”

In a statement this week, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: “The MoD greatly regrets that Mr Moore was blinded at such a young age as a result of this incident and our thoughts remain with all those who were killed or injured during that time - both military and civilian.

“Lessons have been learned following the tragic events during that period of conflict and compensation payments have been made in recognition of that.”

Paul O’Connor, of the Pat Finucane Centre, said the discovery of the documents revealed the British government was “willing to pay almost any amount of tax-payers’ money and to go to almost any lengths” to ensure the truth about rubber bullets didn’t emerge.

“At every level, civil servants in different ministries colluded to ensure a 10 year-old boy was denied the truth,” Mr O’Connor said.

He believes the new evidence could have “significant implications” for other cases involving deaths and serious injuries arising from rubber bullets, including the case of another Derry man, Thomas Friel, who died, aged 21, after being struck on the head by a rubber bullet in May 1973.

The PFC says it now intends to seek access to further withheld documents via Freedom of Information requests.



‘Grossly shocking’ discovery on rubber bullets - Foyle MP
Derry Journal 11/06/13

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has said that the ‘grossly shocking’ discovery of confidential papers revealing just how lethal rubber bullets could be confirms a calculated combination of ‘cynicism, malice and negligence’ on the part of the British government.

He said: “These papers confirm that the British government really knew just how unsafe, unreliable, injurious and lethal these weapons could be.

“Their stonewalling against the well-founded complaints and arguments about the nature and use of these bullets extended to deploying monetary compensation not in a spirit of redress and truth and acknowledgement but as a tool of cover-up.

“At one level, the victims of these bullets and their families have felt and suspected something of this order all along. At another level it is grossly shocking to find that cynical malevolence corroborated in government papers.

“It is not only victims and those who campaigned against these weapons who should be incensed by what has been revealed. Ministers, politicians in the North and in Britain, officials and commentators who retailed the false justification for these weapons and rebutted the genuine concerns should also now be incensed if they have any decency.”

Declassified confidential documents from the 1970s reveal that British officials not only knew rubber bullets could be lethal but that the testing of the weapon had taken place “in a shorter time than was ideal.”

The revelations are contained in a series of official papers relating to the compensation case of Derry man, Richard Moore, who was blinded by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier in 1972. Richard was ten-years-old when he lost his sight.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) later settled the case with the Moore family out of court for £68,000 - a figure mentioned in the papers as a “rock bottom price.”

As revealed by the ‘Derry Journal’ this morning, the documentation was unearthed recently in London’s Public Records Office by Derry-based human rights group, the Pat Finucane Centre.

Correspondence between British officials appears to indicate that the authorities had been in such a hurry to develop ‘riot control weapons’ in the early 1970s that they rushed through the testing of rubber bullets.

The papers also reveal that officials feared Richard Moore’s legal team might seek disclosure of certain background documents detailing the safety of rubber bullets - reports that would reveal the weapon had not been adequately tested.

The city’s MP, Mark Durkan added: “This newly-corroborated truth and Richard Moore’s profoundly sincere, considerate and challenging response to it warrants proper address by the government of today.

“Through his work with Children in Crossfire Richard has many friends in Parliament and I would hope that they would join with me as his constituency MP in making sure that this sordid syndrome of deceit, denial and deadly deployment is duly reflected on the Parliamentary record.”