UK Riots
UK Riots 2011

UK police may be armed with a futuristic laser cannon that could be used to dispel crowds.

The Home Office is in talks with a secutrity company to test the SMU 100 - a laser cannon developed to fight pirates.

The shoulder mounted cannon emits a beam of light covering an area of three square metres. The effect on an attacker is described as similar to staring directly at the sun.

The summer riots, which saw UK police forces seemingly under-equipped to battle widespread disorder, are thought to have prompted the Home Office investigations into new non-lethal defences.

"If you can't see something then you can't attack it - it's as simple as that," said Photonic Security Systems managing director Paul Kerr.

"If you point this at someone it has a temporary blinding effect. They want to look away and then you are stopping them from becoming a threat in a non-lethal, non-harmful way."

Similar technology is used in Afghanistan by British and U.S troops. Soldiers manning checkpoints can target people and vehicles that are perceived as a threat, before making the decision to use lethal force.

Wireless incapacitators that can be fired over greater distance than a tazer and long range chemical irritants are also being investigated, while David Cameron announced in August that police will be able to deploy water cannons to disperse crowds.

The laser will not be approved unless medical experts conclude that exposure will cause no lasting damage.

"The very purpose of this technology is to be non-damaging. People don't stand out on the streets staring at the sun every day and this would not be any different," said Mr Kerr.

"If someone is prepared to just stand there and stare down the barrel at this, which would be incredibly uncomfortable, then they are definitely a threat.

"I have a Royal marine background and this device was originally designed to fight piracy. It can be shone at a boat and determine whether it is a threat. It could also be used to the specification of a crowd of people once we know what the Home Officer could be looking to use it for.

"The quality and safety of the device is paramount and I know that first hand because I have been the guinea pig many times. I know what it is like and I know how effective it can be."

Mr Kerr said that meetings would be set up with the Home Office to discuss the viability of the study, but that nothing had been confirmed.