The bullet was developed by the British as the plastic baton round (PBR). It was intended to replace the older rubber bullet with a projectile that could be fired directly at targets while also reducing the risk of serious injury or death. It was introduced in 1972 and initially was used alongside the rubber bullet it replaced it completely from 1975.
The first plastic bullet was made of PVC, it was 89 mm long and 38 mm in diameter, it weighed approximately 142 g. The weight was similar to the rubber bullet but the muzzle velocity was lower. From 1973 to 1981 over 42,000 plastic bullets were fired in Northern Ireland. Fourteen people were killed by plastic bullet strikes, including nine children. Most of the deaths were caused by the British security services misusing the weapon, firing at close range and/or at chest or head level rather than targetting below the waist.
A new round was introduced in 1994, the L5A7 and a new weapon to fire it, the HK L104 anti-riot gun. From the height of The Troubles the use of the baton rounds declined. In 1999 only 112 rounds were fired, compared to 8,300 in 1996 and there have been no deaths since 1989. Only 13,264 L5A7 rounds have been fired.
A further development of the round was introduced in Britain in 2001, the L21A1. Designed to be more accurate the new acrylic round is more capable of inflicting lethal injuries if it does strike a vital area.