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Hertfordshire Police Federation

Courts need to get tougher on people who weaponise coronavirus

22 January 2021

Offenders who weaponise coronavirus by coughing and spitting at emergency services workers should feel the full weight of the law, says the chair of Hertfordshire Police Federation.

Geoff Bardell says the courts need to send the message that such attacks will not be tolerated.

He was speaking new figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) show assaults on emergency workers are the most common coronavirus-related crime.

The CPS 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.

“These figures are saddening, but possibly not surprising to emergency workers who are facing increasing numbers of attacks on them,” Geoff said.

“The fact my colleagues in the police and other emergency services are being attacked just for doing their job – including by offenders who try to weaponise this potentially deadly virus – is truly sickening.

“To be attacked in this way threatens their health and that of their loved ones, and must not be tolerated.

“We need the criminal justice system to ensure that when such offences are committed, the offenders receive the toughest possible sentences.”

Geoff’s comments have been backed by John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).

He said: “Being spat and coughed at in the middle of a pandemic which has taken so many lives is disgusting, dangerous and inhumane. In some cases, individuals who commit these offences are even saying they have the virus and hope the officer catches it then dies.

“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.”



September 2022