BBC research highlights weaponising of Covid-19

Dyfed Powys Police Federation secretary Roger Webb says he’s appalled Covid-19 is being weaponised in assaults on officers.

Roger says a rise in the number of attacks on officers in which thugs claim to have coronavirus symptoms is worrying and has called for the toughest possible sentence for anyone convicted.

There was a 21 per cent increase in assaults on officers across the UK in the first three months of lockdown. In Dyfed Powys assaults against officers fell from 111 last year to 96 this year, according to research by the BBC.

“One assault on an officer is one too many,” said Roger. “It’s absolutely appalling that people should choose to attack officers by weaponising coronavirus.

“In some ways, it’s easier to deal with a punch than being spat at or coughed. That can have a big impact on the victim’s mental wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic, with all the uncertainty surrounding a disease that has the potential to be fatal.

“We’re here to support our members, but we also need the criminal justice system to show its support too with the toughest possible sentences for anyone attacking officers in this way.

“It’s unacceptable and that message needs to be sent out loud and clear,” he added.

His comments come as a South Wales Police officer has spoken of how he feared being infected with Covid-19 when he was coughed on by an offender.

PC David Roberts-Ablett said it was a worrying moment when he was attacked by Darrell Glen Humphries, who claimed he was symptomatic after he was arrested in Cardiff.

Humphries, from Cardiff, did not have Covid-19 and was jailed for 26 weeks for the attack.

David said: “In these times of Covid, there's a concern. It was a very worrying moment.

“He had been quite aggressive, so I asked him to calm down. It was a very deliberate motion by him, he turned his head, his eyes, fixated on me.

“It was almost like he was targeting me, and he picked my face, and then deliberately looked straight at me and coughed at me.

“Fortunately, I was wearing my glasses and a mask at the time, so I was protected."

David added: “It was a very worrying moment, thinking ‘have I now got Covid?’.”

“I thought what do I do? Where do I go?

“There is being a police officer and dealing with the criminal aspect of things, but there's a more humane side to it as well, where there's a lot of implications on me and my family, my colleagues and the people I am serving in Cardiff.

“It does play on your mind because for a while you just don't know.”

According to the BBC research, 55 of the 167 charges of assaults on officers in South Wales in the first three months of lockdown involved officers being spat or coughed on.

In North Wales, 30 of the 157 recorded crimes against officers involved coughing and spitting on officers, which has risen from 14 in 2019. From that, 23 were charged, up from 10 in the previous year, a BBC Freedom of Information request discovered.

South Wales Chief Constable Matt Jukes said: “What we’ve seen is a number of people effectively making a weapon out of spitting and then presenting that they've got or believe they might have Covid-19.

“A colleague who'd been involved in an incident said ‘in some ways I'd rather be shoved, or punched, than get bitten or spat out, because of that long-term worry about the impact on health’.

“What the spitting and biting does is leaves officers with real uncertainty, until they can get test results.

“It's not always Covid-19, sometimes it's other infectious diseases. Sometimes they have to wait for reassurance or knowledge that there may be another issue they need to deal with.”