Spit guards dominate Diane Abbott’s conference session

16 May 2017

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott praised the police for their work on diversity and body-worn video – but has come under fire for her comments on spit and bite guards.

Ms Abbott, who reaffirmed her party’s commitment to employ an extra 10,000 police officers should they win the General Election next month, addressed the Federation's conference in Birmingham today.

Speaking on efforts to diversify the police force, she said: “I continue to campaign for the importance of more women, BME and LGBT officers in the ranks. I congratulate the police for the work on that to date.

“I am also a strong advocate of body-worn video cameras, I believe they represent an easy win for the police and the public. They bring fewer complaints against the police when they are worn and they bring greater public confidence.  This is a demonstration of how more practical policing means more effective policing. A small investment in technology can bring savings in terms of wasting police time.”

However, Ms Abbott failed to mention the issue of spit and bite guards during her address – and was put on the spot during questions from the floor. Ms Abbott – who has spoken against the use of the protective mesh guards in the past – said she needed more evidence before giving her backing to their wider use, and mistakenly stated that the Metropolitan Police would be the first force to use them, but more than half of police forces in England and Wales are already using them.

“I have been looking at the evidence in relation to spit guards and I continue to look at that evidence,” she said. “I’ve never said I’m against them in principle but like any fresh equipment or power I want to see the evidence of what they would do, particularly in relation to the health risk.

“Among the groups that I have consulted with are groups who represent those with Hepatitis C and those with HIV, and they argue that you don’t catch Hepatitis C or HIV from being spat at. It’s about looking at the research and coming to a view.  The Metropolitan Police Service is still looking into it, they have a trial in London and I’m waiting for the results of that.”

PFEW’s lead on officer welfare Che Donald was astounded by the comments made by the Labour candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington: “Not only was she ill-informed, she was ill-advised and for some of those comments I stood with my mouth open because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the Shadow Home Secretary.

“If she’s looking for evidence, I am more than happy to share that with her, it’s the same evidence I’ve shared with the National Police Chiefs’ Council around the risk of contagions carried in saliva.”

And Mr Donald, who has been involved in much of the Federation’s work on the topic of spit and bite guards, insisted it is about much more than the potential risk of disease.  “The Federation has never said that you will contract Hepatitis or HIV from saliva, what we’ve always said is that saliva is a carrier for blood and that blood can be spat at us by offenders.”

“I would rather be punched in the face than spat at. It’s unacceptable, it’s a blight on society and it needs to be eradicated. If it takes education to stop people doing this then so be it. Anyone who comes to work and puts their life on the line like our officers do on a daily basis deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

“And if we’re going to be spat at, and our assault figures shows that it happens on a regular basis, then we need to have the appropriate protections there to protect it from happening further.”

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