Tougher sentences needed for those who weaponise Covid-19

21 January 2021

The chair of Gwent Police Federation has called for tougher sentences for anyone choosing to use Covid-19 as a weapon.

Steve Thorpe was reacting to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) releasing figures revealing that assaults on emergency workers were the most common coronavirus-related crime in the first six months of the pandemic.

A total of 1,688 offences out of 6,500 coronavirus-related crimes recorded by the CPS between 1 April and 30 September last year were classed as assaults on emergency service workers.

Steve said: “These figures show that this despicable crime of weaponising the virus is a huge problem and that our officers need urgent protection in the form of tougher sentences which will then be a greater deterrent.

“It’s shocking that some individuals are attacking blue light workers in this way. These are tough times for us all but police officers are on the frontline doing their best to protect communities; they should not have to tolerate being spat at or coughed on at any time but particularly given the risks posed by this virus.”

He added: “Officers are risking their own health as well as their families’ health and their colleagues’ but this is added pressure and stress. The CPS and the courts need to send a clear message that this behaviour is unacceptable.”

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.

In the first six months of the pandemic, the number of cases given the coronavirus flag included: coronavirus offence, 1,137; public order offences, 480; criminal damage, 466; common assaults, 464 and other offences, 2,234.

Max Hill, Director of Public Prosecutions, said of the figures: “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.

National Federation chair John Apter has also spoken out on the latest figures and called for jail sentences for offenders so that emergency workers did not feel let down by the justice system

He 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.”

He added: “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.”