Those who attack police, paramedics, fire fighters, nurses and other blue light workers will face tougher sentences thanks to a new law which takes effect from today.
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act comes into in law, having received Royal Assent in September 2018.
It creates a new aggravated offence of an assault against a member of the emergency services and doubles the maximum sentence for these cowardly and despicable acts from six to 12 months.
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) Protect the Protectors campaign was launched at Parliament in February 2017 in connection with a Ten-Minute-Rule Bill introduced by Halifax MP Holly Lynch.
She had joined PC Craig Gallant on patrol in West Yorkshire in summer 2016 and had dialled 999 after witnessing the single-crewed officer being surrounded by a hostile crowd.
The Bill was later picked up by Chris Bryant MP and it received universal support to become law.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Neill Anderson of North Wales Police said: “Every single day our officers, staff and volunteers are often dealing with very difficult and challenging situations and putting themselves in harm’s way to uphold the law and protect the public, they must be able to carry out their duties as safely as possible.
“Being assaulted is not and should never be regarded as ‘part of the job’.
“It is wholly unacceptable for them to be threatened, attacked, verbally abused or spat at – and those responsible should face the full force of the law.
“Since April this year we’ve recorded over 200 assaults on our officers and staff – ranging from being spat at to having a broken jaw. We mustn’t forget that behind the badge, police officers and other emergency workers are ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs.
“We welcome the new legislation which will see tougher sentences being given to those who assault police officers and staff and other emergency service colleagues. We hope it will act as a deterrent and provide the justice for police officers, paramedics, firefighters, prison officers and other public servants.
“It sends a clear message that assaults against public servants are unacceptable and an attack on society itself.”
The law, which builds on the previous offence of assaulting a police officer, also provides extra protection to unpaid volunteers who support the emergency services – including Mountain Rescue and the RNLI.
Mark Jones, general secretary of the North Wales Police Federation said: “The Police Federation has campaigned tirelessly to ensure that our policing colleagues, and those from the wider emergency services family, are better protected in law when it comes to being assaulted whilst on the job.
“It is a national disgrace that attacks on emergency service workers continue to rise and become more prevalent so it is critical that there are strong and robust sentences given to those who violently assault our colleagues.
“Nobody should go to work to be assaulted and any attack on an emergency service worker should be seen as an attack on society as a whole.
“We will now be carefully watching to make sure that this new legislation is imposed at every opportunity and that those responsible for attacks should face significant consequences. The justice system now has to put its money where its mouth is and ‘Protect the Protectors’.”
The new law has also been welcome by colleagues from the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
Stuart Millington, senior operations manager for North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said:
“We are thankful in North Wales that incidents of this nature are rare when considering the number of calls we attend each year.
“However, we will not tolerate abuse or attacks directed towards our staff members.
“Staff members delivering both the Emergency response service and the Community Safety service are doing so to help and improve the communities which we serve and should not be subject to abuse of any nature whilst doing that.
“We have policies and procedures in place to protect our staff and working closely with colleagues in the Police, will as needed, prosecute persons treating our staff in this way.”
Louise Platt, director of operations at Welsh Ambulance, said: “Our staff do a particularly difficult job, putting themselves on the front line every day to help people with medical emergencies, and often working in very difficult and emotionally testing circumstances.
“Being exposed to assaults or any other inappropriate behaviour, verbal or physical, while they are undertaking their duties, is totally unacceptable, and we welcome this recent change to legislation aimed at providing more protection for our emergency services staff.
“Violence not only puts our people at risk, but prevents them from doing their job and caring for people who are in a vulnerable position. Thankfully, serious incidents are isolated. However, our staff have every right to ask the public to respect and protect the work we are trying to do.”
Gary Doherty, chief executive at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said: “Our staff work extremely hard to care for and treat every patient who comes through our doors and it is unacceptable for them to be subjected to violent or aggressive behaviour.
“We take violence against our staff very seriously and we welcome this new legislation, which will see offenders who assault Health Board staff receiving tougher sentences.”
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