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More criminals who attack emergency workers fined than jailed, figures show

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Figures show 13% of convictions over 11 months resulted in immediate custodial sentences and 18% were fined.

Police officer

Just 13% of criminals who attack police and emergency workers are being sent to jail with more being let off with a fine, official figures show.

The average time behind bars was never longer than three months, according to data covering the first 11 months since new sentencing laws for attacks on emergency workers were introduced.

From the middle of November 2018, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act doubled the previous maximum sentence to 12 months in jail for such offences.

Campaigners have branded the figures a “disgrace and an insult”, leaving offenders “sticking two fingers up to the system” after getting a “slap on the wrist”.

There were 11,964 prosecutions for assaulting a constable and assault or assault by beating an emergency worker between November 2018 and September 2019, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics.

Around 80% of the prosecutions resulted in convictions (9,629) during this period.

Of these, 13% (1,518) were handed an immediate custodial sentence while 18% of the cases resulted in a fine (2,137).

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Police Federation
Police Federation national chairman John Apter (Steve Parsons/PA)

The number of people jailed for assault or assault by beating of an emergency worker has steadily increased each month since the new law was introduced, from 25 in November 2018 to 165 in September last year.

The average custodial sentence length per month was consistently lower than three months during the period, according to the figures.

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, called for magistrates to do more to protect his colleagues.

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He said: “From previous Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data, we know 90% of those attacked are police officers and these figures confirm most people who attack them are still receiving nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

“The fact nearly nine out of 10 individuals who are charged under the new Act walk free from a court is a disgrace and an insult.

“Offenders are sticking two fingers up to the system, which is unacceptable and needs to change.”

The federation has long campaigned for tougher punishments for those who attack emergency workers.

Mr Apter said changes in the law were “intended to protect police officers, act as a deterrent, and punish those who have no regard for the rule of law”, adding: “While we welcome the high conviction rate, a few weeks in jail is certainly not a sufficient penalty for any assault which could have a devastating personal impact on my colleagues and their families.”

Justice officials say decisions on sentencing are a matter for the courts and the figures will include sentences for low-level offences which may not typically warrant an immediate custodial sentence.

Mr Apter said the laws and the Home Secretary’s previous pledge to double the maximum sentence to two years were welcome but would be “useless until magistrates step up to the plate and dish out the maximum sentence of one year which is already at their disposal”.

He also called on the CPS to make sure it is bringing charges for the right offences, adding: “The time has come that sentencing guidelines must now include a minimum tariff for this offence, and there must be a consequence for attacking and assaulting a police officer.”

John Bache, national chairman of the Magistrates Association, said the crimes are treated seriously but the sentence must be appropriate to the individual case according to the law and guidelines set by Parliament and the Sentencing Council.

He added: “Custody should only be used when it is unavoidable, in line with sentencing guidelines, and magistrates would therefore always consider whether a prison sentence is needed or whether there is a community sentence which would be likely to lead to successful rehabilitation while also delivering an appropriate level of punishment.”

The Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary have written to the Sentencing Council to ask the matter be looked at in its upcoming revision of the guidelines on assault.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Attacks against our brave emergency workers are appalling and cowardly.

“That is why we doubled the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker and gave judges the powers to impose longer sentences for crimes committed against them.

“For assaults that are more serious, offenders would face much tougher penalties – up to life imprisonment.”

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