‘Coronavirus coughs’ at key workers will be charged as assault, CPS warns

The Director of Public Prosecutions has warned that anyone using coronavirus to threaten emergency and essential workers will face serious criminal charges.

Mar 26, 2020
By Paul Jacques
Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC

It comes after reports of police officers, shop workers and vulnerable groups being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have the disease.

Max Hill QC said such behaviour was illegal and assaults specifically against emergency workers were punishable by up to two years in prison.

Coughs directed as a threat at other key workers or members of the public could be charged as common assault.

Mr Hill said: “Emergency workers are more essential than ever as society comes together to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am therefore appalled by reports of police officers and other frontline workers being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have Covid-19.

“Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stands behind emergency and essential workers and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody who threatens them as they go about their vital duties.”

Yesterday (March 25), 45-year-old Darren Rafferty of Dagenham, East London, admitted three counts of assaulting an emergency worker after claiming to have coronavirus and directing coughs at Metropolitan Police Service officers arresting him for another offence. He will sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court on April 1.

And David Mott, 40, was jailed for 26 weeks yesterday after threatening to spit at police officers in Blackburn who had asked him what he was doing out with two others after the Prime Minister’s announcement of stricter social distancing rules.

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) called for more robust laws to be introduced if the situation worsens. National Chair John Apter, said: “During this challenging period the announcement is welcome and timely.

“Reports of a vile minority using the virus as a weapon against police officers trying to keep them safe beggars belief. Coughing and spitting, threatening to spread COVID-19 to my colleagues is a disgusting act and must not be tolerated on any level. I have raised this serious issue of people using the virus as a weapon or to cause fear with the Home Secretary this week – suggesting there must be emergency legislation put into place if we see an increase of these kind of incidents.”

Mr Apter continued: “Yes, there are offences already available, but they are generally minor and do not attract the level of seriousness they deserve. We need to see a strong response for those who assault our 999 colleagues in this way – those dedicated men and women who are putting their lives on the line during this crisis. Until then, I will keep pushing this as an issue because our emergency service workers deserve nothing less.”

In January, the CPS published new guidance strengthening its approach to assaults on emergency workers after analysis revealed it had prosecuted almost 20,000 cases since the legislation first came into force in November 2018.

It also published a joint agreement on assaults on emergency workers with partners in the police, NHS, fire and prison services.

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