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MPs shocked at Taser supplier overlap

Committee grills Home Office officials

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A parliamentary committee challenged the Home Office's choice of Taser provider to the UK Police, questioning whether the new supplier was a little too closely linked to the previous one.

The matter arose during a meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which last week reviewed Home Office policy in respect of Taser equipment.

In the UK, Tasers are prohibited weapons under s5 of the Firearms Act 1968, and only authorised persons are allowed to possess them. Prior to September of this year, the one and only authorised supplier of Tasers to UK police forces was Pro-tect Ltd of Daventry Northamptonshire.

Pro-Tect were stripped of their licence in September. A spokesman for the Home Office told the Guardian: "Inquiries following the Raoul Moat operation revealed Pro-Tect breached its licence by supplying Tasers direct to police...The inquiries carried out by Northamptonshire police also revealed the company breached rules governing the secure transport of the devices and ammunition."

Two months on, and the authorisation to supply Tasers has been handed over to Tactical Safety Responses Limited (TSR), also of Daventry, Northamptonshire – although Pro-Tect are continuing to handle residual obligations arising from existing contracts.

A key question that concerned the committee was just how different the new supplier was from the old.

A number of committee members expressed surprise that both companies were in Daventry: TSR’s registered office lies, according to the AA route planner, just 1.8 miles – or seven minutes' drive – from that of Pro-Tect Ltd.

Intense questioning of Home Office official, Graham Widdecombe of the Policing Directorate, by Committee Chair Keith Vaz, and Dr Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, revealed some overlap of staff. Dr Huppert asked: "How comfortable are you that TSR are in reality a completely different company from Pro-Tect: they are not using the same staff, the same approach, the same systems, the same problems we had with Pro-Tect?"

Mr Widdecombe explained that the Home Office had looked at systems and procedures, and was re-assured that these were very different.

Julian Huppert interrupted: "My concern is more that there seems to be a remarkable similarities between the two companies. To what extent do we have one monopoly supplier which had its licence withdrawn for breaking the rules and we are just going to let it have another name and very similar staff, very similar approach?"

Mr Widdecombe replied by suggesting that the individuals involved would have learnt their lessons. As he explained to Keith Vaz: "We did seek assurances that the principals of Pro-Tect would not be involved in any way in the setting up of the new company."

This was backed up by an official Home Office spokesman who told El Reg: "We have looked closely at the new company and are satisfied that they are sufficiently independent of Pro-Tect. TSR directors were not involved in the breaches committed by Pro-Tect; Pro-Tect directors will not exercise any control over TSR; and they have put in place processes to ensure they do not make the same mistakes as Pro-Tect".

The question of just what – or who – counts as a "principal" surfaced again in official responses from the Home Office and from TSR themselves.

According to Companies' house filings, spotted by sharp-eyed El Reg reader, Richard Taylor, TSR Ltd was set up on 28 September – the same day that newspapers were reporting the demise of Pro-Tect’s contract: and the first director named on the TSR Ltd particulars is a Mr Glenn Cameron – who is also listed as Secretary for Pro-Tect Ltd.

Would this make Mr Cameron a "principal" of both companies? Not according to the Home Office, whose spokesman told us: "This focuses on what the word 'principals' is defined as".

Nor according to Mr Cameron, Director of TSR Ltd and Secretary to Pro-Tect Ltd, who issued a statement which clarified his position, stating: "I am not a principal of Pro-Tect Systems in terms of ownership or directorship (Kevin Coles is the Managing Director) but I am employed by Pro-Tect Systems as Office Manager. Tactical Safety Responses Limited, which I formed and act as Director for, was only granted an authority by the Secretary of State on Friday of last week." ®

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