Tue, 07 Feb 2017
A bill calling for harsher sentences for those who assault police officers and other emergency service workers cleared its first hurdle at Parliament today.
Halifax MP Holly Lynch (Labour), who is championing our campaign to ‘Protect the Protectors’, introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill on assaults on emergency services staff in the House of Commons which won cross-party support from MPs.
The bill calls for assaults against emergency service workers – ‘a constable, firefighter, doctor, paramedic or nurse’ – to become a specific offence. Ms Lynch also called for those offenders who spit at emergency responders be required to have a blood test, and make it an offence if they refuse, so that officers know if they are at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases.
Ms Lynch spoke about her work with blue light officers including West Midlands PCs Mike Bruce and Al O’Shea who had blood spat in their faces while trying to arrest a violent offender. Because the offender refused to give a blood sample, both had to undergo antiviral treatments to reduce their risk of contracting communicable diseases, and they faced an agonising six-month wait to find out whether the treatment had been successful – during which time PC O’Shea couldn't see his brother who was undergoing cancer treatment because of the risk of passing on an infection, and PC Bruce was understandably reluctant to be close to his wife or children, fearing for their wellbeing.
West Yorkshire PC Dan McLaughlin, who was assaulted when a man resisting arrest grabbed his radio and used it to repeatedly strike him on the head, was also included in the speech and all three officers lent their support to the bill and campaign from the public gallery.
Ms Lynch, who cited our recent police welfare survey which gives figures around the number of assaults on police officers during her speech, told MPs: “Behind the uniforms are incredibly brave and dedicated individuals who, regrettably, face risks that they simply should not have to face on an almost daily basis. They routinely go above and beyond their duties to keep the public safe, yet when someone sets out deliberately to injure or assault an emergency responder, the laws in place must convey how unacceptable that is in the strongest possible terms.”
Addressing concerns over soft sentences, she added: “To assault a police officer is to show a complete disregard for law and order, our shared values and democracy itself, and that must be reflected in sentencing, particularly for those who are repeat offenders.
“Many officers described feeling like they had suffered an injustice twice - first at the hands of the offender; and then again in court when sentences were unduly lenient.”
There were cheers in the chamber when she told the House that laws in Australia mean that offenders who spit and refuse to have a blood test can receive a $12,000 (£7,320) fine and a custodial sentence.
After the bill, the officers as well as PFEW representatives, including Vice Chair Calum Macleod, West Yorkshire Police Federation Chair Nick Smart and West Midlands Police Federation Chair Tom Cuddeford, met with MPs to discuss the aims of the campaign and seek further support.
Mr Macleod said: “We are grateful to Holly for giving her support to police officers, and other emergency service workers, who are all too often getting assaulted in the line of duty. We do not believe that being hit, kicked, spat at or shoved is ‘just part of the job’ and we are delighted the bill passed its first reading, today. It was great to see it get support from all sides of the house.
“We recognise there is a lot more work to do before better protections are in place, however, along with our new Protect the Protectors campaign, this is an important first step.”
The bill follows a pre-event at Parliament last week and will be read for a second time in the House on 24 March.
© 2017 Police Federation of England & Wales