MPs' outrage as cops let kids handle submachine guns at summer fete

PUBLISHED: 11:54 15 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:32 05 October 2010



MPs in East London are outraged after cops let kids as young as seven handle a real machine gun at a summer fete. They are demanding explanations from police chiefs after seeing pictures by the East London Advertiser of officers allowing children to pose with a Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun at a summer fete less than a mile from where a clubber was shot dead by a machine gun just a fortnight ago

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

BELOW: Children are shown the deactivated guns at Sunday’s community fair—and how the Advertiser broke the story yesterday

EXCLUSIVE Victoria Huntley

MPs in East London have expressed outrage after armed cops let kids as young as seven handle a real machine gun at a Sunday summer fete.

Both Bethnal Green & Bow MP George Galloway and Poplar MP Jim Fitzpatrick have demanded urgent explanations from police chiefs after seeing pictures taken by the East London Advertiser of officers allowing young children to pose with a deactivated Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun.

The pictures were taken at a police-organised summer fete in Poplar, less than a mile from Limehouse where a clubber was shot dead by a machine gun just a fortnight ago.

Mr Galloway said he was “outraged” and described the police’s actions as “foolish.”

He compared the images to those normally seen in Mogadishu.

“I am truly shocked,” he told the Advertiser.

Neighbouring MP Jim Fitzpatrick was “very disturbed” and worried such police actions could glamorise guns for kids.

But the Met’s CO19 armed response unit remained defiant. They defended their policy, saying the guns were deactivated and they were successfully breaking down barriers between youths and police.

Mr Galloway said: “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?

“I’ve written to the new police borough commander for Tower Hamlets asking for an urgent explanation of the presence of the armed officers and their behaviour at the community fair last weekend which, of course, took place not far from where and not long after a man was gunned down outside a nightclub off Cable-street.

“The foolish display at this festival can serve only to normalise’ firearms or make them appear attractive, even glamorous.

“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.”

But Supt Andy Tarrant from the Met’s CO19 armed response unit based at Whitechapel’s former Leman-street police station, insisted the guns were deactivated’ and that his officers were there to educate children about the dangers of gun crime and becoming involved in gangs.

He said: “None of the weapons are able to be fired. We wanted to convey to the kids that although this weapon is deactivated, if you point it at a police officer, they don’t know that.

“This is an ongoing programme and the whole idea behind what we do 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.”

But Poplar MP and Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick was “very disturbed” by the images and would also write to the 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.

“However, giving young children real guns to handle is inappropriate.

“This could be 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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