Emergency worker assaults most common coronavirus-related crime

Assaults on emergency service workers were the most common coronavirus-related crimes prosecuted in the six months following last spring’s lockdown, latest figures show.

Jan 21, 2021
By Paul Jacques
Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it charged 1,688 such offences between April 1 and September 30 last year.

Many of these involved police officers being coughed and spat on – with others kicked, bitten and hit with heavy objects – after stopping suspected rule-breakers, said the CPS.

Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said it was “particularly appalling” that a high number of assaults on emergency workers were still taking place, adding: “I will continue to do everything in my power to protect those who so selflessly keep us safe during this crisis.”

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) said these crimes were “disgusting, dangerous and inhumane”.

Almost 6,500 coronavirus-related offences were prosecuted in the six months after the first national lockdown began, according to statistics published today (January 21) by the CPS.

Almost 1,200 offences were prosecuted under coronavirus laws that forbid unnecessary travel and unlawful gatherings.

Cases included a man caught travelling between counties in Wales to solicit the services of a sex worker, and a householder in Manchester found having a party with 15 people whom he tried to claim were part of his support bubble.

As well as prosecuting offences under Covid-19 legislation, 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, thefts of essential items or fraudsters taking advantage of the crisis.

The CPS said offences highlighted in the latest data with high numbers of charges, such as criminal damage (466), public order (480) and common assault (464), were also likely to indicate crimes being committed by those stopped for being outside their homes without reasonable excuse by police.

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.”

He added: “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.”

Mr Hill QC said: “Like many organisations across the country, the CPS has had to adapt to a raft of new laws and regulations intended to keep the public safe during the pandemic.

“Our guiding principle throughout has always been to support the police in ensuring the right person in charged with the right offence.

“We are also determined to see wider criminality during lockdown periods reflected in court, which is evident in the charges seen in this data.”

In total, 2,106 defendants were prosecuted for 6,469 coronavirus-flagged offences, with a conviction rate of 90 per cent.


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