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16 May 2018
Statistics for the number of West Midlands Police officers who were spat at during 2016 were quoted in Parliament during the latest reading of the new assaults bill.
Rhondda Labour MP Chris Bryant has championed the Assaults on Emergency Services (Offences) Bill on the back of the Police Federation’s nationwide Protect the Protectors campaign.
He received support from MPs of all parties in the House of Commons last year and when it passed through its third reading on Friday 27 April 2018.
Mr Bryant told MPs during the latest debate: “By introducing a new offence of common assault or battery on an emergency worker, including all the emergency workers who are later defined in the bill, we have effectively tried to bring that concept of common assault or battery from the Criminal Justice Act to apply to all spitting at emergency workers.
“The problem is that, as the statute does not expressly define spitting as being part of the offence of common assault or battery, there is anxiety in some circles that prosecuting authorities do not take the matter very seriously.
“The truth is that there is a growing incidence of spitting at emergency workers. The West Midlands police, for instance, reported that in just one year – 2016 - there were 231 cases of police officers being spat at. Some of the instances are quite horrific.”
John Williams, acting chair of West Midlands Police Federation, has welcomed the progress of the bill and also the support of other MPs who have spoken of their concern at the rise in assaults on the police.
But he is concerned that some aspects of the bill may have been watered down.
“In launching the Protect the Protectors campaign nationwide, the Police Federation has raised awareness of the sheer number of assaults on police officers, police staff and other emergency service workers,” says John.
“These assaults have almost come to be seen as ‘part of the job’ but that should never be the case. We need to see tougher sentences for those who attack those serving their communities; sentences that effectively punish the crime and also act as a deterrent to others.
“I hope that the bill continues to make its way through Parliament to become law but also that this opportunity to better protect police officers and other emergency service workers is not lost through the dilution of the bill’s original provisions.”
After amendments were made, the bill gives police added protection when it comes to sexual assault but the maximum term for common assault remains at 12 months rather than the 24 months that had been proposed.
The Federation’s national chair Calum Macleod has explained: “Magistrates do not have 12 months sentencing powers for one offence, therefore six months is the maximum we can expect at the moment.
“Offenders are being under-charged and prosecuted for a lesser offence. This is the reality and this is why police officers will continue to feel under-valued with criminals laughing in the face of justice.”
While a number of MPs spoke during the latest debate, the Conservative MP for Mid-Worcestershire, Nigel Huddleston, perhaps best summed it up: “I want to say in conclusion that it is my hope and that of many others in this House that the passage of the bill will send a clear message to emergency service workers about how deeply they are valued, and provide some reassurance that they do not need to tolerate abuse and assault while carrying out their duties.
“I hope too that the bill’s passage will send a message to the public that emergency service workers are protected by legislation and that those who are violent towards them will face the full force of the law.”
His North Warwickshire colleague Craig Tracey said: “I am sure that we all agree that an assault on anyone in any situation is awful, but to attack someone who is trying to help another person in an emergency is callous, heinous and totally unacceptable.
“Punishment for such assaults on emergency workers should fit the crime, and I believe that it is right and fair to give a judge the ability to take them into consideration as an aggravating factor in determining a sentence.”