'Coronavirus cough attacks' could land offenders in jail

Criminals who deliberately cough at police officers while claiming to have coronavirus could face up to two years in jail, the country's top prosecutor has warned.

Thursday, 26th March 2020, 2:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th March 2020, 2:18 pm

Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), spoke out following a string of threats linked to the deadly virus amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said assaults against emergency workers were punishable by up to two years in prison, while coughs directed as a threat towards other key workers or members of the public could be charged as common assault.

Mr Hill said: "Emergency workers are more essential than ever as society comes together to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

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A group of police officers patrol the streets

"I am therefore appalled by reports of police officers and other frontline workers being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have Covid-19.

"Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop. The CPS stands behind emergency and essential workers and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody who threatens them as they go about their vital duties."

The warning comes after Darren Rafferty, 45, admitted on Wednesday to deliberately coughing at Metropolitan Police officers before claiming he was suffering from coronavirus.

He admitted causing grievous bodily harm to his former partner and three counts of assault on an emergency worker and faces sentencing next month.

David Mott, 40, was jailed on Wednesday after threatening to spit at police in Blackburn after officers questioned him about being with two others following the announcement of stricter social distancing rules on Monday night, the CPS said.

And a group of teenagers spat in the face of an RSPCA officer as she rescued a swan on Saturday, shouting "have corona bitch", according to the animal charity.

The CPS said new guidance published in January strengthened its approach to assaults on emergency workers after analysis revealed it had prosecuted almost 20,000 cases since legislation doubling the maximum sentence first came into force in November 2018.