'Frightened, scared, vulnerable': Anger at 'meaningless' tougher sentences for people who attack emergency workers

1 March 2023, 07:50 | Updated: 1 March 2023, 08:20

Union bosses want more to be done to protect emergency workers and that tougher sentencing alone isn’t enough. Right, paramedic Charlotte Miller who was sexually assaulted
Union bosses want more to be done to protect emergency workers and that tougher sentencing alone isn’t enough. Right, paramedic Charlotte Miller who was sexually assaulted. Picture: Alamy/LBC
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

The number of attackers serving more than 6 months in jail after being convicted of assaulting an emergency worker halved last year to just 0.5%, LBC analysis has revealed.

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What’s more, just 10 of 30,000 offenders caught punching, spitting at and even sexually assaulting paramedics, police and firefighters received the maximum one-year term between July 2020 and June 2022. 

It's as the UK's largest trade union Unison has told LBC recent pressures on the NHS are leading to patients becoming violent and abusing crews. 

Unison National Officer and former paramedic Alan Lofthouse told LBC: "When the crew turns up on scene, we're hearing of them being physically assaulted by people who've had to wait so many hours for an ambulance.

"At the moment we have a workforce that is under pressure, stressed and responding to emergencies when they've been waiting for hours. Patients are worried and can be quite aggressive.

"Those people in control rooms who answer the phone to people are being abused verbally and threatened."

Read more: 'I'm not all mouth and no trousers': Rod Stewart visits hospital to pay for day of patient scans amid NHS backlog and cuts

Read more: 'Don't sell off the NHS - fix it instead': Bernie Sanders warns Brits privatisation 'will make things much worse'

Charlotte Miller's attacker was jailed for nine months
Charlotte Miller's attacker was jailed for nine months. Picture: LBC

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that of 14,633 people convicted of assaulting an emergency worker last year, just 84 received custodial sentences of more than six months, meaning that despite hundreds more attacks in 2022 than 2021, the number jailed for more than six months nearly halved.

LBC’s analysis of the Emergency Workers Assault Act of 2018, introduced after significant pressure from Nick Ferrari’s GEMS campaign, raises questions about how effectively the existing legislation is being applied - concerns which have been amplified by the experiences of frontline workers.

In October 2022, paramedic Charlotte Miller was sexually assaulted by a patient she was tending to in Central London. 

Charlotte told LBC: "It was just a regular day at work. I got called to a patient - it was just like any patient we would deal with on a daily basis. 

"As we were getting the gentleman in to the back of the ambulance, he decided to grab me in an inappropriate place twice and expose himself to me and my crewmate. 

"I was quite frightened, scared and felt incredibly vulnerable. I also felt very angry this had happened to me. I was there to help this individual, but the individual had other means. I felt very vulnerable and frightened".

Charlotte called police, and within minutes they arrived to arrest the attacker - 35-year-old Naveed Ahmed.

In June 2022, amendments to the 2018 act doubled the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker to two years.

Yet, despite the nature of his assault, Ahmed did not receive the maximum sentence of two years - nor did he receive a sentence equating to the previous maximum sentence of one year. He was jailed for just nine months.

But Unison National Officer Alan Lofthouse told LBC he does not believe that tougher sentences alone work as a deterrent. 

He says of those who attack emergency workers, it's "mostly people having serious mental health crises, or under the influence of drink and drugs. I don't think they're going to go 'oh actually my maximum sentence might be doubled, so I won't assault this frontline worker.'" 

He has called for the government to do more to prevent violence before it occurs, saying "if it's not reducing violence, and they aren't implementing it to punish people correctly, it doesn't mean anything."

A Government spokesperson said: “Sentencing is a matter for judges, and these figures predate our new tougher punishments for those intent on assaulting our hardworking emergency workers – proof that we will not tolerate such cowardly behaviour.”

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