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Cops 'U-turn' move over letting kids hold submachine-guns at summer fete

PUBLISHED: 15:45 15 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:32 05 October 2010

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ARMED response officers may be forced into a U-turn after being criticised by MPs for allowing children as young as seven to handle sub-machine guns at at Sunday fete. The controversial practice came to light following exclusive pictures in Thursday's East London Advertiser taken at Sunday's fete—showing children being given the guns by officers from the Met's CO19 firearms unit as part of a fun day, less than a mile from a shooting in which a man was gunned down with an automatic weapon just two weeks before

ABOVE: A seven-year-old is given a deactivated sub-machine gun to handle

BELOW: Children are shown the deactivated guns at Sunday's fair... and how the story broke in the East London Advertiser on August 16

ARMED response officers may be forced into a U-turn after being criticised by MPs for allowing children as young as seven to hold submachine guns during a summer fete in London's East End.

The controversial practice came to light following exclusive pictures in Thursday's East London Advertiser taken at Sunday's fete-showing children being given the guns by officers from the Met's CO19 firearms unit as part of a fun day.

The fun day staged in Poplar was less than a mile from a shooting in which a man was gunned down with an automatic weapon just two weeks before.

Youngsters posed with deactivated Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns used by C019 officers.

On Wednesday, CO19 chiefs told the Advertiser they would continue their gun displays at community events.

But Scotland Yard today (Friday) said after widespread coverage of the Advertiser's story nationally that it would be carrying out a 'review' into such presentations.

Chief Supt Bill Tillbrook, from CO19 armed response unit, based at Whitechapel's former Leman-street police station, told the BBC today: "I'm not necessarily going to agree that it was the wrong thing to do.

"But the public perception was quite clear to me. It is that which has prompted me to review the way we do such presentations in the future."

His officers were attempting to "engaging hearts and minds" which he said was honourable.

One of his senior officers, Supt Andy Tarrant, had earlier told the Advertiser: "This is an ongoing programme and the whole idea is to divert people away from gun crime.

"We've done this kind of thing in other places and it's been very successful and we will continue it in the future."

The weapons were all deactivated and none could be fired.

The German-built 9mm weapon can fire at a rate of 800 rounds per minute.

Critics said allowing youngsters to get so close to firearms sent a mixed message.

Both Bethnal Green & Bow MP George Galloway and Poplar MP Jim Fitzpatrick have demanded urgent explanations from police chiefs after seeing pictures in the Advertiser.

Mr Galloway was "outraged" and described the police actions as foolish.

He compared the images to those normally seen in Mogadishu.

"I am truly shocked by the images obtained by the Advertiser.

"We are, tragically, used to seeing images of primary school aged boys handling assault rifles in Liberia or Mogadishu... but in Limehouse?"

He has written to the new police borough commander for Tower Hamlets asking for an explanation of the presence of the armed officers at the community fair.

"The foolish display at this festival can serve only to 'normalise' firearms or make them appear attractive, even glamorous," he added.

"We used to boast that we had an unarmed police force. It's a mark of our failure as a society that we have more and more armed police.

"It's not something we should celebrate. That way lies the sickness that has consumed so much of America."

Neighbouring MP Jim Fitzpatrick, the Transport Minister, was "disturbed" and worried such police actions could glamorise guns for kids and was also writing to Tower Hamlets borough commander, Det Chief Supt Paul Rickett.

He said: "The police do a difficult and dangerous job and it's important they are close to the public and can explain their role at events like the open day.

"But giving young children real guns to handle is inappropriate.

"This could glamorise the weapons and create familiarity which is plain wrong."

The CO19 unit ran a stall at the community fete which had a powerful sub-machine gun, a bullet proof shield, a SWAT-style helmet and body armour on display.

The stall nestled between the usual summer attractions including children's face-painting, a giant slide and a theatre workshop.

Officers had pistols strapped to their legs, with the ammunition clips removed for safety.

Hundreds of families attended the fair in Cottage-street in Poplar, less than a mile from where Curtis Smith was shot dead on his wedding anniversary outside Club Red in Butcher-row, off Cable-street, on July 27, just two weeks before the fete.

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