Each year, we pay hundreds of millions of pounds in taxes to try to ensure that we get a swift and professional response to our emergencies.
If it’s a road accident or a heart attack, we want that ambulance or para-medic to arrive as quickly as possible, to take control, to save lives or give treatment to ensure we have the best chance of survival or return to full health.
If our home or place of work is on fire, or dangerous chemicals are spilt, we want that fire-engine to get to us before we’ve even ended our 999 call, to get the fire put out or to smother or neutralise the chemicals so that we are not endangered by toxic fumes.
When someone is breaking in to our home, or a fight breaks out in the street, or another vehicle smashes in to our car and then drives off at speed, or a child or grandchild goes missing, we want the police to get to us soonest to catch the perpetrators, end the violence or find and return the child safely.
Those police officers, fire fighters and para-medics are acting on our behalf. We want and need them to respond so much better than we could manage to save lives and property and to give security.
That’s why we should be absolutely intolerant of, and take tough action against, those who assault emergency workers in the course of their duties.
There are flaws in the way in which statistics about these assaults are collected, so the numbers must be treated with some caution.
However, it is believed that there were more than 23,000 assaults on police officers last year. That is 450 a week; the equivalent of an officer being assaulted every 22 minutes. The Police Federation says the true figure is closer to 6,000 assaults every day, with most not being reported and prosecuted. And, there were more than 70,000 recorded assaults on NHS staff and more than 500 attacks on firefighters in England in 2016. Worryingly, the numbers are increasing.
That’s why I’m backing a Private Member’s Bill currently being promoted in Parliament by my colleague Labour MP Chris Bryant. This would create a new offence of ‘assaulting an emergency worker.’ This proposed new law has support from the Royal College of Nursing, Unison, the Fire Bridges Union, the Police Federation, Alcohol Concern, the British Transport Police and the GMB union.
I’m also supporting amendments that are being tabled to the Bill as it goes through the Parliamentary process. One amendment would ensure that sexual assault against an emergency worker becomes an aggravated offence – of particular importance as, locally, we have had reports in the last few days of a known offender sexually attacking police officers who had gone to arrest him. Another amendment will clarify that the disgraceful (and potentially health-threatening) act of spitting at an emergency worker is a common assault.
If we claim to be a civilised society, we need to be absolutely clear that we simply won’t tolerate assaults on those who we have asked to put themselves in danger to save lives.