British police suffer spike in spitting attacks as Covid ‘weaponised’

Coventry: Police cordon off street following incident

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In the three months from March 23 to June 23, 7,537 assaults against officers, constables, and volunteers were recorded – around 80 per day. As the information collected came from only 31 out of the UK’s 43 police forces across the UK, there are fears the true scale of abuse levelled against officers could be much higher. The largest number of cases was reported in Cambridgeshire.

In three months of 2021, there were 128 assaults recorded, compared with 58 in 2020 and 41 in 2019.

Dorset Police, Merseyside Police, and Avon and Somerset Police also saw a sizable increase in the number of assaults.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Chief Constable Nick Dean told the media that the pandemic has seen abusive individuals start “using Covid as a weapon,” risking the health of officers by spitting at them.

The senior officer said: “Since restrictions were imposed, we’ve seen other protests around climate change, Black Lives Matter, all of which put us at the forefront of managing large events with the potential of confrontation.”

He added: “Here in Cambridgeshire, we probably have around about one assault to a police officer or police staff per day

“The nature of assault can really range from very serious to what we can class as lower-tier assaults such as being pushed or kicked, or what is very prevalent – being spat at.

“None of that, at any level, is acceptable within policing.”

The violence experienced by officers ranged from “being pushed or kicked” and “being spat at” to “very serious” assaults.

One officer was so badly assaulted by someone while on duty that they suffered a bleed on the brain and couldn’t work for the remainder of the year.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs Council said: “Police officers and other emergency services workers should not have to face violence, abuse or threats of any kind. It is not part of the job.”

Statistics for the whole of 2021 are yet to be released, however social tensions are not promising any reductions in numbers.

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Anti-lockdown protesters in the UK have clashed with police multiple times throughout the year.

A “freedom rally” held on December 18 descended into scuffles between police and self-styled “resistance groups”, as participants demanded politicians oppose the NHS vaccine mandate and Covid passports.

Adding to the mental health issues being faced by both the public and the police, Chief Constable Dean said a rise in mental health problems over the pandemic, and an increasing number of protests over issues like climate change and Black Lives Matter, have contributed to the larger number of assaults.

He said: “People are suffering much more from mental health and wellbeing issues, which have clearly increased during the lockdown, and the restrictive periods and in society in general,” he said.

“I think the opening up of the night-time economy with drugs and alcohol prevalent within that environment is also an issue of why we’ve seen an increase.

“We’ve equally seen, as we can’t hide from the media, in terms of protest activity and the number of protests we’ve seen in the capital and in major cities, or indeed here in Cambridgeshire, has increased dramatically.”

Speaking of the role officers play, the National Police Chiefs Council said: “They are trying to help the public, serve their communities and save lives.

“It’s not acceptable, and with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service we will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who uses violence against front line staff.”

Assault is a criminal offence. Assaulting a police officer is deemed an ‘aggravated assault’ – and is treated more seriously by the courts.

Under section 89 of the Police Act 1996: “It is a criminal offence to assault a constable in the execution of his duty, or a person assisting a constable in the course of his duty.

“It is an offence to resist or wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of his duty.”

On conviction of assaulting a police officer contrary to section 89 of the Police Act 1996, the defendant faces a sentence of up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

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