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Tougher punishment for people who spit or cough at emergency workers

PUBLISHED: 13:44 16 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:37 16 April 2020

Assaulting an emergency worker currently carries up to 12 months imprisonment  double the maximum for common assault  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Assaulting an emergency worker currently carries up to 12 months imprisonment  double the maximum for common assault Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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People who spit or cough at police and other emergency workers are set to receive tougher punishment.

It comes as police promised to deal robustly with people attempting to weaponise coronavirus by threatening to transmit the infectious disease.

The Sentencing Council has put forward new guidelines for courts to increase the severity of penalties, with spitting or coughing considered aggravating factors under the plans, which remove defences for attacks carried out in excessive self-defence or without premeditation.

Last week, Zeb Fitts, 25, of no fixed address, appeared in court for spitting in the faces of two nurses at West Suffolk Hospital.

Fitts was being treated for an injury picked up during an earlier incident in which he assaulted a man and smashed a mirror at an address in Bury St Edmunds.

He admitted two counts of assaulting an emergency worker, one of assault causing actual bodily harm and one of criminal damage, and was remanded in custody to appear before Ipswich Crown Court on April 29.

Superintendent Kim Warner said he could not comprehend what compelled Fitts at a time when NHS staff were on the front line of fighting coronavirus.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act was introduced in November 2018.

The offence currently carries up to 12 months imprisonment – double the maximum for common assault – but the Police Federation made calls last December for the law to be toughened up following 220 assaults on officers during the first nine months of its introduction, compared to 341 total assaults in the previous year.

At the time, Darren Harris, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said the Act was not as strong or punitive as hoped, while police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore called for a “serious look” at increasing punishment.

The changes are among several proposed for assault offences.

The Sentencing Council has launched a consultation until September 15 and published interim guidance for courts to treat threats or activity relating to transmission of coronavirus as aggravating features of assault.

Following the first week of lockdown, Suffolk chief constable Steve Jupp said police would deal robustly with people who deliberately spit and cough on emergency workers or the public.


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