BBC research shows how Covid-19 is being weaponised

Gwent Police Federation chair Maria Henry has called for the toughest possible sentences for offenders who weaponise Covid-19 against police officers.

Maria says being attacked by thugs claiming to have coronavirus symptoms can have a huge impact on the wellbeing of officers.

There was a 21 per cent increase in assaults on officers across the UK in the first three months of lockdown. In Gwent, assaults against officers rose from 54 last year to 57, according to research by the BBC.

Maria said: “It’s absolutely disgusting that people should think to attack officers by spitting at them, coughing on them, or even biting them.

“But in this period of Covid-19 it is horrific that people should weaponise the virus and use it to attack officers who, let’s not forget, are doing their job.

“It can have a psychological impact on officers, who have the anguish of not knowing whether they have the virus until they get a test result and will have to isolate and everything else.

“Offenders should be given the toughest possible sentences to support our members and send out the message that attacking officers and weaponising coronavirus isn’t acceptable.”

Maria’s comments come as a South Wales Police officer has spoken of how he feared being infected with Covid-19 when he was coughed on by an offender after an arrest.

PC David Roberts-Ablett said it was a worrying moment when he was attacked Darrell Glen Humphries, who claimed he had coronavirus symptoms after he was arrested for being violent towards staff at a Tesco supermarket in Cardiff.

Humphries, who did not have Covid-19 and is from Cardiff, was jailed for 26 weeks for the attack.

And David said: “In these times of Covid, there's a concern. It was a very worrying moment.

“He had been quite aggressive, so I asked him to calm down. It was a very deliberate motion by him, he turned his head, his eyes, fixated on me.

“It was almost like he was targeting me, and he picked my face, and then deliberately looked straight at me and coughed at me.

“Fortunately, I was wearing my glasses and a mask at the time, so I was protected.”

David added: “It was a very worrying moment, thinking ‘have I now got Covid?’.”

“I thought what do I do? Where do I go?

“There is being a police officer and dealing with the criminal aspect of things, but there's a more humane side to it as well, where there's a lot of implications on me and my family, my colleagues and the people I am serving in Cardiff.

“It does play on your mind because for a while you just don't know.”

According to the BBC research, 55 of the 167 charges of assaults on officers in South Wales in the first three months of lockdown involved officers being spat or coughed on.

In North Wales, 30 of the 157 recorded crimes against officers involved coughing and spitting on officers, which has risen from 14 in 2019. From that, 23 were charged, up from 10 in the previous year, a BBC Freedom of Information request discovered.

South Wales Chief Constable Matt Jukes said: “What we’ve seen is a number of people effectively making a weapon out of spitting and then presenting that they've got or believe they might have Covid-19.

“A colleague who'd been involved in an incident said ‘in some ways I’d rather be shoved, or punched, than get bitten or spat out, because of that long-term worry about the impact on health’.

“What the spitting and biting does is leaves officers with real uncertainty, until they can get test results.

“It's not always Covid-19, sometimes it's other infectious diseases. Sometimes they have to wait for reassurance or knowledge that there may be another issue they need to deal with.”