Closing the net

Police forces throughout the UK could soon be using a device capable of bringing suspect cars to a complete halt within metres.

Existing systems, which puncture a vehicle’s tyres, simply slow suspects down.The X-Net, developed by Qinetiq, is based on a portable spiked net, and has already been demonstrated to a number of police forces in the UK and US, as well as international security agencies.

The device can bring a range of road vehicles, including vans and four-tonne trucks, to a complete standstill within 75m – which is roughly the same as an emergency stop.

The net could also be used to prevent suicide bomb attacks in cities such as Baghdad, said Philip Dandy, business development manager at Qinetiq.

‘It is likely to be used in areas of hostility such as the Middle East, where there is a threat from vehicles that must be stopped at checkpoints. But it could be used anywhere where there is a vehicle threat – on the streets of Baghdad, Belfast or Birmingham,’ he said.

The system can halt vehicles travelling at any speed, regardless of whether they are four-wheel, or front or reverse-wheel drive, and even if they have run-flat tyres.

The company is now attempting to gain approval for X-Net to be used by UK police forces through the Police Scientific Development Branch.

According to figures from the Metropolitan Police, over 40,000 vehicles were stolen in London alone in the year to the end of August 2003. The government has pledged to cut car crime by 35 per cent by 2004.

Meanwhile, many people are killed each year as a result of police chases, and a number of forces no longer undertake high-speed pursuits, as the risks are too great.

Existing portable vehicle arrest devices operate by simply bursting the car’s tyres. But suspects are often able to drive cars for a significant distance on flat tyres, said Dandy.

‘Devices that just puncture car tyres are not satisfactory, we wanted a system with a 100 per cent guarantee that it would stop the vehicle in a safe and controlled way, without any major threat to the occupant or bystanders,’ he said.

The net is based on a traditional web design, and is made of very high-strength material. On the leading edge of the net are two rows of barbed spikes, protected by plastic sheets.

When deployed, the X-Net system wraps itself around the wheels and the axle, preventing the suspect from driving the vehicle forwards or backwards, he said. ‘The vehicle drives across the nets, the spikes puncture the tyres and the net is then pulled around the front tyres, stopping the wheels from rotating.

‘It is a very crude way of stopping the wheels rotating – if you try to drive forwards nothing happens, and if you try to drive backwards you move a few metres then the net gets caught up in the other direction,’ said Dandy.

The net can simply be laid out on the road in front of the oncoming suspect vehicle just as with existing portable devices, or it can be deployed using straps. These would quickly pull the device across the front of the vehicle from a stowed position at the side of the road.

As well as stopping suspected stolen vehicles, the device could also be used to cordon off or control traffic flow into a secure area, or to protect dignitaries such as President Bush on this week’s state visit, said Dandy.

‘The beauty of the net is that it can be rapidly deployed and removed,’ said Dandy.

‘Potential terrorist threats could be events where there is just one visitor, who might be there for a few hours. So it would be easy to have a team of guys deploy this in a few minutes, and then remove it, rather than managing the threat by conventional means such as moving the event completely or using concrete blocks.’

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