‘Weaponising Covid-19’: police warn of coughing and spitting attacks
Calls for tougher laws following death of railway employee as front-line workers are targeted
Police have shared video footage showing people using the Covid-19 coronavirus as a “weapon” by coughing and spitting at officers and other front-line workers.
West Midlands force released the videos in a “stark warning” to offenders as three men were jailed for such attacks, the London Evening Standard reports.
Thomas Wilson, 19, was sentenced to six months on Monday after threatening to spit in the face of a female police officer as she attempted to detain him for allegedly spitting at a lorry driver during a road rage row in Coventry.
Bevan Burke, 22, was jailed for 42 weeks at Birmingham Crown Court after spitting at a shopkeeper who banned him from the store for shoplifting, and 54-year-old Anthony Evans was sentenced to 16 weeks after spitting in a police officer’s face in a separate incident in the city.
Reports of similar attacks have risen sharply during the pandemic, with a recent survey of shopworkers by the Usdaw union revealing that spitting and other forms of abuse by customers has doubled in recent months.
Meanwhile, police are examining CCTV footage of a suspect who spat at a railway ticket office worker at London’s Victoria Station who later died of Covid-19.
A witness to the attack on Belly Mujinga, 47, told The Guardian that the suspect “looked like a lawyer or something” and that he had asked “why we weren’t in the ticket office”. The witness added that the suspect then said, “I have the virus”, before spitting and coughing in Mujinga’s direction.
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Amid growing calls for tougher laws to tackle the disturbing trend, the government is considering new penalties for assaults on emergency workers, The Telegraph reports.
Under current laws, “coughs or spits directed at key workers - or threats to do so - can be considered crimes if they were meant to harm or cause fear, with criminals charged with common assault”, according to the BBC.
In England and Wales, common assault can carry a prison sentence of up to six months, while anyone convicted of an attack against emergency workers going about their duties can be jailed for up to two years.
However, a source told The Telegraph that Home Secretary Priti Patel is now considering doubling the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers and issuing new sentencing guidelines.
A spokesperson for the Police Federation said: “We have seen some vile and disgusting acts by a minority, weaponising Covid-19 by spitting and coughing at officers. It is therefore absolutely right and proper that the home secretary is clear that those who do so should feel the full weight of the law. Those responsible for weaponising the virus are the lowest of the low.”