Matthew Holehouse – Telegraph.co.uk December 11, 2011
The technology, developed by a former Royal Marine commando, temporarily impairs the vision of anyone who looks towards the source.
It has impressed a division of the Home Office which is testing a new range of devices because of the growing number of violent situations facing the police.
The developer, British-based Photonic Security Systems, hopes to offer the device to shipping companies to deter pirates. Similar devices have been used by ISAF troops in Afghanistan to protect convoys from insurgents.
The laser, resembling a rifle and known as an SMU 100, can dazzle and incapacitate targets up to 500m away with a wall of light up to three metres squared. It costs £25,000 and has an infrared scope to spot looters in poor visibility.
Looking at the intense beam causes a short-lived effect similar to staring at the sun, forcing the target to turn away.
“The system would give police an intimidating visual deterrent. If you can’t look at something you can’t attack it,” said Paul Kerr, the firm’s managing director, told The Sunday Times.
“If police spot someone trying to do something untoward, painting them with this would certainly make them think twice about it,” he said. He said it could also be deployed during hostage rescues.
The Home Office has been considering new forms of non-lethal equipment since the August riots, with the limited range of tasers and CS gas leaving a “capability gap”.
A Home Office spokesman said scientists at its Centre for Applied Science and Technology believe the use of lasers “has merit” and that it will be piloted by at least one police force. However, they will have to be satisfied the technology does not cause long-term health damage before it can be approved by the Home Secretary.
Other technology being studied includes ‘wireless electronic interceptors’ that can be fired a greater distance than Tasers, and long-range chemical irritant projectiles, the newspaper said.
The Metropolitan Police is exploring the possibility of buying three water cannons at a cost of £4m. Currently the only police force in the UK to operate water cannon is the Police Force of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which has six. Scotland Yard is also increasing the number of officers trained to fire plastic bullets, as a direct response to the riots.