Offenders who cough and spit at police officers to face tougher sentences

16 April 2020, 11:29

Tougher guidelines are being brought in
Tougher guidelines are being brought in. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Offenders who spit or cough at emergency service workers will face harsher sentences under new guidelines issued today.

Both acts will now be considered aggravating factors when criminals are convicted of common assault offences.

It means that any evidence of intent “to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission” will now be seen as an aggravating factor.

The sentencing council has drawn up the new guidelines for judges and courts, which will increase the severity of sentencing for people who are convicted of common assault on an emergency service worker, and if they spit or cough at them.

Usual defences for common assault, such as "excessive" self-defence or claiming it was not premeditated have now also been removed as justifications.

Those convicted are therefore more likely to spend up to a year in jail.

There have already been multiple reports of people attempting to resist arrest by coughing or spitting at officers.

A 22-year-old woman was jailed for eight weeks and fined £200 for spitting at a police officer after racially abusing a call handler.

Emily Whittall, of Sinatra Drive, Milton Keynes, pleaded guilty to assaulting an emergency worker and one count of racially-aggravated public order at Oxford Magistrates' Court.

PC Antony Hurd said: "This sentence is a strong message that assaults against emergency workers are not tolerated by Thames Valley Police or the courts.

"These are unprecedented times during a global health pandemic, and Whittall showed nothing but disregard for this or the officer's personal safety."

In another case, a man from Merseyside was jailed for six months for spitting and coughing at NHS workers who were trying to treat him.

David Newton, 50, from Liscard on the Wirral was being treated at Arrowe Park Hospital in the early hours of last Thursday morning when he became violent.

As hospital workers treated him, he started kicking out at staff, swearing at them and then coughing and spitting at workers who didn't have protective equipment on.

Newton was taken out of the unit by the police but continued to kick out at security guards.

He was charged with assaulting an emergency worker, pleaded guilty at Wirral Magistrates’ Court and was given an immediate jail term of six months and ordered to pay £300 in compensation.

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The Sentencing Council said its proposed changes reflected “the clear intention of Parliament to increase sentences for assaults on those designated as emergency workers”.

It added: “All but one offence category therefore provides for a custodial sentence to be imposed, and half of the categories include custodial starting points.

“The most serious offence category provides for a sentence of up to the full statutory maximum sentence of 12 months’ custody to be imposed. While Parliament may yet consider if this maximum sentence should be increased further, the guideline reflects the current statutory provisions.”

Sentencing Council spokesperson, Mr Justice Julian Goose, said the guidelines will provide the courts with a framework for sentencing a range of offences, from high-volume common assault to attempted murder.

“When in force, they will provide protection in the years ahead for the public and the people who serve them by providing public services or as emergency workers,” he added.