Plastic Bullet Injuries in Northern Ireland: Experiences during a Week of Civil Disturbance

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Plastic bullets were introduced to Northern Ireland for riot-control purposes in 1973. Their use has been controversial, with a number of fatalities. In the week beginning July 7, 1996, some 8,000 plastic bullets were fired during widespread rioting.


Details of injuries attributed to plastic bullets were obtained retrospectively from patient notes for the period July 8 to 14, 1996, in six hospitals. A total of 172 injuries in 155 patients were recorded.


Nineteen percent of injuries were to the face/head/neck, 20% were to the chest or abdomen, and 61% were to the limbs. Abbreviated Injury Scale scores ranged from 1 to 3. Forty-two patients were admitted for hospitalization, three to intensive care units. No fatalities occurred.


Plastic bullet impact to the abdomen or above may cause life-threatening injuries. Below this site, major trauma is unlikely.

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