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24 April 2020
The National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales has been left “gobsmacked” by courts letting offenders walk free after using coronavirus as a weapon against police officers.
John Apter also urged magistrates and the judiciary to be consistent with sentencing.
His remarks follow a case last week which saw an offender being let off lightly after coughing in the face of a police officer in St Leonard’s, Sussex, claiming he had COVID-19 and wanting to infect the officer and his family.
Trevor Dangerfield, 39, was handed a 16-week suspended prison sentence as well as being ordered to pay £100 compensation and a £156 victim surcharge.
PFEW National Chair Mr Apter said: “Nothing is worse than being spat at or coughed in the face by an individual who says they want to infect you and your family with the most contagious of viruses.
“I raised this with Home Secretary very early on in this crisis because we could see this behaviour start to unfold.”
He added: “What is adding insult to injury is the different approaches in how it is sometimes dealt with by courts.
"We still see inconsistencies around the country, I scratch my head when I see some sentences being given out which are so lenient. I'm gobsmacked by them.
“Some are being sent to prison, which is where they absolutely deserve to be, whilst others are let off with nothing more than a slap on wrist. This sends completely the wrong message.”
In South Yorkshire, Keeley Jones of Barnsley attacked two police officers and a detention officer by spitting and coughing at them whilst telling them she was infected with the virus.
The 34-year-old was charged with three counts of assault on an emergency service worker and was handed a 16-week jail sentence suspended for 12 months.
“We need the courts to be consistent, to weaponise what is a deadly virus in this way is a new low, there must be a consequence to this and that should be prison,” Mr Apter continued.
"These are wicked, violent offenders - they should spend time in prison."
Mr Apter also defended officers policing the lockdown following a barrage of negative reports in the media, explaining the challenges brought by legislation sailed through very quickly and guidance which has sometimes been confusing.
He said: “We are policing in the most unprecedented of times, it’s tough and police officers are doing their best. The vast majority of times my colleagues have got it right, but they are still being vilified by some aspects of the media. It is deeply unhelpful and unfair and causes tension on the ground with my colleagues.
“We had an officer in Gwent stabbed and hospitalised yesterday as well as officers who have been bitten and rendered unconscious.
“It is not a good time for policing and we are doing our best but we need support from both the media and the public.”