22 January 2021
Offenders who weaponise the coronavirus pandemic to attack emergency workers must face the toughest possible sentences.
That’s the view of Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton as new figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) show assaults on emergency workers are the most common coronavirus-related crime.
The statistics revealed that following last spring’s lockdown, in the period between 1 April and 30 September, 1,688 out of 6,500 offences were classed by the CPS as assaults on emergency workers.
Tony said: “One attack on an emergency worker is one too many, but to see so many attacks on my colleagues is sickening.
“Our members have been on the frontline of the fight against this virus alongside their colleagues in the other emergency services throughout the pandemic.
“The job is already risky enough without facing the increased threat of attack, just for doing their job.
“And to see Covid-19 potentially being weaponised against them by offenders coughing or spitting at them is appalling.
“Such offences must receive the toughest possible sentencing from the courts to send out the message that this is unacceptable.”
Tony’s message was echoed by the John Apter, chair of the national Police Federation. He said: “This stark increase in coronavirus-related crime may shock decent members of society but will not come as any real surprise to colleagues.
“Police officers on the frontline are increasingly facing abuse from a small minority who think nothing of deliberately weaponising the virus, and these people are the lowest of the low.
“The frustration we have in dealing with these individuals involves sentencing, as it’s inconsistent and often leaves victims feeling completely let down by the criminal justice system.
“Those who commit these attacks must spend time in prison, as without this there is no deterrent and emergency workers will continue to feel let down by the criminal justice system.
“We have recently seen examples of Covid being transmitted to colleagues through these attacks. When someone knowingly has the virus or believes they have it and then wilfully coughs or spits at a police officer, we need the CPS to consider a much more serious charge than the ‘Assaults on emergency workers’ category. Without this, these types of attacks will continue to rise.”
The CPS has introduced a ‘coronavirus flag’ on its case management system to highlight criminality related to the pandemic as an aggravating feature at sentencing. This can include coughing and spitting while threatening to infect another person with the virus.
Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “Our guiding principle throughout has always been to support the police in ensuring the right person in charged with the right offence.
“Particularly appalling is the high number of assaults on emergency workers still taking place and I will continue to do everything in my power to protect those who so selflessly keep us safe during this crisis.”