Call for tougher penalties for people attacking emergency workers after firefighters targeted by yobs

Tyne and Wear fire chiefs have again called for tougher penalties for people attacking emergency workers, following an incident on Bonfire Night.

Tuesday, 10th November 2020, 3:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th November 2020, 3:38 pm
Chief fire officer, Chris Lowther.

In recent months, there have been reports of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) staff being assaulted while serving the public.

This has led to frontline crews and some officers being issued with body-worn cameras as the problem becomes more frequent.

On Bonfire Night, a crew attending an incident in Throckley, Newcastle, found themselves being attacked by a gang of youths with fireworks and other missiles.

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While attacks on firefighters are not unique to Tyne and Wear, bosses have branded the behaviour as ‘unacceptable’.

“Regrettably this year we have saw again attacks on our crews as they go about their legitimate business in trying to help communities,” said assistant chief fire officer, Peter Heath.

“I’m pleased to say this [number] is slightly down from [the bonfire period] last year but nonetheless, one attack is one too many.

“To put this into context, if you have a look nationally across England from 2014 the numbers of attacks on firefighters has doubled since that time.

“It’s just not acceptable and the chief officer and many others across the service and wider afield, with members support, have been very active in trying to raise this issue and address it.”

The fire chief was speaking at Monday’s (November 9) meeting of the fire authority’s Policy and Performance Committee, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.

Councillors heard that recent investment in body-worn cameras for frontline crews and other officers has helped where attacks have happened.

Mr Heath added work was ongoing to “collectively lobby about how we can continue to drive the scourge down.”

He went on to say: “Most people across our region and our area are good legal-minded people who have put the fire and rescue service very high up on the list of organisations that they hold in a high regard.

“So most people do the right thing and we do believe this is a small number of people who are engaging in this type of behaviour.”

Chief fire officer, Chris Lowther, recently shared footage of the Bonfire Night attack on social media saying “this needs to end” and “enough is enough.”

At this week’s Policy and Performance Committee, the fire chief said calls have been made to government for tougher sentences to create a “deterrent.”

He told the meeting: “As you will be aware, sentencing rules changed so that anybody who attacks an emergency worker can now be jailed for up to two years.

“But unfortunately, sentencing guidelines do not lead to that happening on a regular basis.

“This is something I’m working on both locally and nationally as part of my role as chair of operations for the National Fire Chiefs Council.

“The fire authority have written to Robert Buckland the justice minister in order to make sure that our feelings about the actual application of these broader sentences is put into place to create a deterrent.”

He added: “Along with the fire authority, my view is that the best way to deal with this is upstream through education and diversion and that TWFRS have a great track record in that – we can’t do that during the Covid period.

“And whilst I do believe in upstream prevention there’s also the here and now to deal with, with your firefighters potentially getting injured everyday.

“It’s something I won’t tolerate as your chief fire officer and nationally as the chair of operations and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that the public are aware and this blight on our society is removed.”

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