He's still alive - but a British illusionist may be feeling humiliated after police said he tricked television audiences into thinking that he had played Russian roulette with live bullets.

Derren Brown, 32, was televised on Sunday by Britain’s Channel Four television pretending to shoot himself.

But the stunt backfired when it was announced that he lied about the live round.

"There was no live ammunition involved and at no time was anyone at risk," said Lenny Harper, the chief of police on the British Channel Island of Jersey, where the programme was filmed.

"There is absolutely no way that the Jersey police would allow anybody to put themselves at risk and shoot themselves dead," Harper said.

Viewers saw the magician point the Smith and Wesson revolver at himself before pulling the trigger.

Psychological tests

Brown said he used a series of psychological tests to try to "read" the mind of the person who loaded the handgun, to determine where the bullet was.

He asked the person to count to six, using the sound of his voice to help locate the live chamber.

"There is absolutely no way that the Jersey police would allow anybody to put themselves at risk and shoot themselves dead"

Lenny Harper,
chief of police

Brown fired the fifth chamber towards a sandbag and it apparently went off. The cameras then showed a hole appearing in the bag.

But police revealed on Tuesday that a prop company had brought blank ammunition to the island.

'Pyrotechnical experts'

"This programme was made by a television company very experienced in pyrotechnics, in making smoke and bullet holes appear. It was no different from film which uses special effects," Harper said.

"This was just an illusion – the question of whether it was in dubious taste is another matter," Harper said.

Brown had claimed the stunt needed to be filmed at a secret foreign location to bypass Britain's strict gun laws – but the laws in Jersey are just as tough.

Channel Four refused to confirm that blank ammunition was used, but admitted it had worked with police in Jersey before filming.

Brown's spokesman declined to comment, apart from to say that if the illusionist had fired a blank round into his head "he would have died anyway".