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Wiltshire Police Federation

Tougher sentences needed for coughing and spitting attacks

22 January 2021

Polfed News

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has called for tougher prison sentences after the release of CPS statistics revealed that assaults on emergency workers had become the most common coronavirus-related crime.

National Chair John Apter

National Chair John Apter

Following last spring’s lockdown, 1,688 out of 6,500 offences were classed by the CPS as Assaults on emergency workers between 1 April and 30 September last year.

PFEW National Chair John Apter 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, added: “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.”

The CPS’s coronavirus-flagged data covers completed prosecutions where a case has ended in a conviction or been withdrawn - for the first two quarters of 2020/21. It does not include cases with a trial or sentencing outstanding.