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Bereaved brother calls for police to stop using plastic bullets

·4 min read

A man whose sister died after being struck by a plastic bullet in Belfast has called for police to stop using them.

Twelve-year-old Carol Ann Kelly was fatally injured by projectiles fired by soldiers in disputed circumstances on May 19 1981 in the Twinbrook area.

Four decades on, her brother Mark said he does not want to see any other mother go through what his did.

A campaign is calling for the ending of the use of plastic bullets by police in Northern Ireland (Rebecca Black/PA)
A campaign is calling for the ending of the use of plastic bullets by police in Northern Ireland (Rebecca Black/PA)

Some 17 people, including eight children, died in Northern Ireland after being struck by a rubber or plastic bullet between 1972 to 1989, according to the archive website CAIN.

A fresh inquest into the death of one of the 17, Thomas Friel, was recently heard at Belfast Coroner’s Court.

According to PSNI statistics, Attenuating Energy Projectile (AEP) systems have been used on 30 occasions since 2008.

The last time they were deployed was in April during rioting following a loyalist protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol at Lanark Way in Belfast.

Mr Kelly is part of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, along with other families whose relatives died after being struck.

They have written to Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Justice Minister Naomi Long asking for a meeting about stopping the use of plastic bullets.

Campaigners protested outside Stormont (Rebecca Black/PA)
Campaigners protested outside Stormont (Rebecca Black/PA)

The group held a demonstration at Parliament Buildings on Sunday, organised by Relatives for Justice, which was attended by Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly.

Mark Kelly had been with his sister when she was struck as they walked home after visiting a shop.

“Carol Ann was about two feet in front of me, when she heard the first bang she turned to come back towards me, it was then she was hit with a second shot and she fell on the ground … I knew she was dead,” he told the PA news agency.

“There are other children who were killed (after being hit by plastic bullets), Julie Livingstone had been killed the week before that, Francis Rowntree, there are a list of men, women and children killed by these bullets and there is no reason for it, there is no need to have these bullets in circulation, they are costing a fortune to keep stored, they were recently fired in Belfast at the interface and again it could easily have turned into a situation where some child was killed and we don’t want that to happen.

Carol Ann Kelly, 12, was fatally injured after she was struck by plastic bullets fired by soldiers (Kelly family/PA)
Carol Ann Kelly, 12, was fatally injured after she was struck by plastic bullets fired by soldiers (Kelly family/PA)

“We want these bullets banned and taken off the streets, we don’t see any reason for having them stored any more.

“We don’t want to have to be doing this for another 40 years, my mother has passed away, she never saw justice for her daughter.

“There was no rioting, I was there, I know exactly what happened.

“My mother went through 30 years of suffering after seeing her daughter dead on the street, outside her front door. I don’t want any mother from any part of Ireland or anywhere else to suffer what my mum suffered. It’s not acceptable.”

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly backs a campaign to end the use of plastic bullets by police (Rebecca Black/PA)
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly backs a campaign to end the use of plastic bullets by police (Rebecca Black/PA)

Gerry Kelly, who is also on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said plastic bullets were not used for a long time but have been used again recently.

“In April they were used on the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist side of the (peace) wall, I don’t care what side it’s on, they should not be used on people, they are lethal weapons,” he said.

“The argument was at the time that they were not lethal weapons, but if they killed people then yes they are.

“I represent North Belfast, I remember one week there were thousands of these bullets being fired, and saying to police they are damaging policing.

“Plastic bullets shouldn’t be used, they shouldn’t be storing them, and they should be banned.

A PSNI spokesperson said: “An EP is one of a range of tactical options, and the issue, deployment and use of Attenuating Energy Projectile (AEP) systems is strictly regulated and falls within national guidelines.

“AEPs are only deployed in situations of serious public disorder when their use is judged to be absolutely necessary to reduce a serious risk of loss of life or serious injury or substantial and serious damage to property which is likely to cause, or is judged to be likely to cause, a serious risk of loss of life or serious injury.

“Use of AEPs is approved by a senior officer and is automatically referred by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to the Police Ombudsman’s Office on all occasions.”

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