UK cops crackdown on ‘disgusting, demeaning’ coronavirus crime

Police officers speak to a man with a microphone at Piccadilly Circus in central London. (AP pic)

LONDON: British police are cracking down on coronavirus-related crime after a spate of thefts and attacks on emergency workers involved in battling the outbreak.

A 23-year-old man was jailed for 12 months in Burnley, northwest England, for spitting at two officers after claiming he had Covid-19 on Saturday.

Lancashire Police said it was “totally unacceptable that police and other frontline workers who are doing their best to keep our communities safe are treated like this”.

In London, a 55-year-old man was jailed for six months on Wednesday for coughing on a police officer and threatening to infect him with Covid-19.

Meanwhile on Monday, a 35-year-old man was also sentenced to six months in jail for stealing personal protective equipment, including face masks, from an ambulance near a hospital.

He also assaulted a security guard who challenged him, the Metropolitan Police said.

Police have been given emergency powers to deal with people flouting strict government orders on social distancing to avoid the close-contact spread of the virus.

That has led to criticism of an overzealous approach, particularly after one force used drones to monitor people walking in a national park who were deemed to be on “non-essential” business.

But the latest incidents taken to court were classed under a specific law governing assaults on emergency workers, introduced in November 2018 with a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail.

Elsewhere, in Kirkby, near Liverpool, police said face masks and gloves were stolen from a National Health Service van overnight Tuesday.

The police chief of Northamptonshire in eastern England said one of his officers had been spat and coughed at and must now keep away from his ailing mother.

“The officer is a primary carer for his mother who has cancer. He will now need to self-isolate and will no longer be able to care for his mum,” Nick Adderley wrote on Twitter.

Adderley called it a “disgusting, demeaning and potentially life-threatening assault” and warned that officers would fast-track such cases with prosecutors and ensure maximum punishment.

The chief prosecutor for England and Wales has warned that anyone using Covid-19 as a threat against emergency workers could face up to two years in prison.

Last week, police in Kent, southeast England, said a man had been arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage after the tyres on two ambulances were damaged.

Several other “coughing incidents” have been reported across the country.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales, an industry body, said it had received reports of verbal abuse and aggressive behaviour, including spitting, against community pharmacists.

“I have also heard of fights starting outside pharmacy premises. This is totally unacceptable behaviour,” said director Elen Jones.