Officers call for automatic custody for ‘Covid assaults’

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SPF says officers’ lives have been endangered while they try to enforce emergency lockdown laws

Rank-and-file police have demanded those who commit “Covid-19 assaults” should be automatically held in custody until they appear in court.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said current criminal justice policies favoured those committing offences over officers enforcing the lockdown.

In a submission to Holyrood’s sub-committee on policing the federation called this “morally indefensible.”

MSPs are reviewing the way police have used emergency powers in the pandemic.

Holyrood’s policing sub-committee will take evidence from the chief constable, Iain Livingstone, and John Scott QC, chairman of the independent advisory group, on the way the police have been using the temporary powers granted to them to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

It will investigate how the national force is coping with issues during the pandemic, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), absences, testing and attacks on officers.

A number of organisations have made written submissions to the sub-committee, including the Police Federation, which represents all officers up to the rank of chief inspector.

It said the most high-profile challenge facing officers was the emergence of “Covid-19” assaults, and members were critical that they had not been given greater legal protection.

In the first three weeks following the lockdown (24 March-18 April) police recorded more than 100 crimes where officers or staff were victims.

They included being spat at or deliberately coughed on.

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James Hurst, who played for West Bromwich Albion and Wrexham, coughed on police officers, telling them he had Covid-19

The force described these incidents as “outrageous and disgraceful” and said they would result in automatic arrest.

But in its submission to the sub-committee, the federation said: “Our members are exceptionally angry that neither the police service nor the Crown Office took a deliberate and unambiguous position that those who committed such assaults should be kept in custody pending court appearance.

“The harm this caused (and continues to cause) cannot be understated.

“On one hand officers were (and are) expected to enforce legislation to ‘save lives’ whilst on the other having to tolerate that those who endangered their own lives often being home in their beds before the officers themselves were off duty.”

‘Morally indefensible’

The federation said that what was being asked of police officers, was “a morally indefensible position”.

The Scottish Police Superintendents’ Association (SPSA) which represents senior managers in the force, praised the way the public had largely complied with the emergency regulations and government guidance which it said had been imposed and broadcast with minimal notice.

Police Scotland said 12,500 frontline officers had been trained and equipped or re-supplied with the necessary PPE.

It said it had experienced increased levels of absence as officers and staff were required to self-isolate, shield or displayed Covid-19 symptoms.

But sickness levels had been falling, the force said, from a peak of 3,745 absences on 29 March to just under 1,000 on 29 May, approximately 4% of the workforce and similar to pre-pandemic levels.

John Finney, chairman of the sub-committee, said policing was always going to present a challenge in extraordinary times, with powers previously inconceivable.

‘Proportionate and consensual’

He praised the low number of enforcement actions taken by police which he said was testament to the public’s co-operation and a “proportionate and consensual approach” taken by the force.

But he added: “Public scrutiny of the police remains as important as ever, particularly as we begin to take steps out of lockdown and police powers continue to change.

“There will also be more challenging circumstances ahead, which need to be thought about carefully before we, as legislators, and the police, as those who enforce criminal law, take further action.”

On Monday, a former England youth international footballer, James Hurst, was remanded in custody after admitting acting in a threatening or abusive manner towards police.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard he had coughed in the faces of officers as they arrested him, and claimed he was infected with Covid-19.

Hurst, 28, who formally played for West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, will be sentenced at the end of June.

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