A ‘number’ of complaints have been made to an anti-violence charity after young children were pictured aiming rifles during an open day at Luton Police Station on Saturday.
The event, which saw more than 400 attend, included a display by firearms officers outside the station in which young children were allowed to simulate gunfire with an array of weapons.
Beds Police has said that the showing was merely for educational purposes, though the stand has been attacked as “distasteful and heavy handed” by visitors.
The open event came just three days after Delaney Brown Snr appeared at the station, appealing for the gunman killer of Paul Foster to be found on the first anniversary of his death.
Lenos Wilson, who acts as an intermediary between communities and the police for the Non Violence Alliance, revealed that he had been contacted by ‘a number’ of groups concerned with images which show young children taking part in the display.
He said: “It seems to have upset many people and many feel it was very untimely.
“I have been contacted by representatives for the Justice 4 Leon campaign, the African Carribbean Strategic Partnership Group and the family of Faruk Ali who all feel that this looked distasteful and heavy handed.
“They are worried that this is a show of force and that the police come across as bully boys.”
He added: “Personally I have good relations with the police but they could have notified us that this would be part of the open day, it was not good.
“I am also not clear on why rubber bullets were on show when they are rarely used.”
Other pictures taken on the day show children dressed in riot protection gear and forensic outfits.
Stephen Pereira, 28, contacted the Luton News to share his alarm at images of rifles on show.
He said: “The police should not be getting children comfortable with guns, this is not a joke. I’m not sure what kind of a message this is trying to put out, it is a very alarming scene.
“I used to be part of the Lewsey Centre Rifle and Pistol Club and I understand gun safety – even if it is clear and without a magazine it should not be pointed at anybody. Kids should not get into the habit of that.”
He added: “There seems to be a culture of violence with the police, especially in light of what has happened recently.”
Luton commander superintendent Dave Boyle maintained that the weapons were under “strict and close supervision”.
He said: “We make no secret of the fact that the police have access to firearms in order to fight crime and protect the public from harm and showing the weapons is one way of deterring the illegal use of guns.
“Specially trained firearms officers were in charge of the weapons that were chained down at all times and while the picture shows a young person holding the weapon, which they were encouraged to do as part of the education process, they were under strict and close supervision.”
Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner Olly Martins added that “we can’t pretend guns don’t exist”.
He said: “That aspect of the open day was to show the police have got firearms, it is important that people know that,
“It is about letting everyone know that they are dangerous and that anyone illegally holding guns will be met with force by the police.”
“As for children holding guns, kids can join the army cadets at the age of 12 and they come into contact with a number of live weapons so it is not out of the ordinary.”