Police officer set on fire is a reminder that attacks are daily

As the trees turn colour and the temperature drops, we are reminded that 2020 is in its final months.

November is traditionally a time of reflection and on Remembrance Sunday and the 11th hour of the 11th day I always pause to reflect on those who have given their own lives so we can live in a free country.

As the nation faces a battle with the invisible killer that is Covid-19, it is worth remembering that we have faced great adversity before, witnessed huge sacrifice, and come through it to build a strong and vibrant society where differences are celebrated rather than used as reason for persecution.

Once again Britain is calling on its armed services, with the military giving great assistance to the NHS and its troops on the front line in this new battle. Their organisational ability and great resources will be a huge help as the country ramps up coronavirus testing to record levels.

I hope that on the streets of Liverpool, where soldiers are helping with the first city-wide test, their uniforms will be regarded as a reassuring and welcome presence.

Many former members of the forces find their way into policing. Among our ranks in Devon and Cornwall is PC Darral Mares, the Newquay community officer who sustained life-changing burns when he was set alight by Blagovest Hadjigueorguiev.

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Hadjigueorguiev’s sentencing for grievous bodily harm last Friday was a reminder of this horrendous attack using a flammable liquid and of the risks our emergency services face when they are protecting and helping us on the front line.

I am pleased PC Mares’ attacker has been caught and charged and that Body Worn Video, funded by our communities and rolled out two years ago, provided irrefutable evidence in the case, helping secure an early conviction and swift progress through the courts.

Two days earlier, the policing family mourned the loss of an officer who paid the ultimate price when Sergeant Matt Ratana was laid to rest. Sgt Ratana was shot while on duty in Croydon Custody Centre by a detainee who appears to have smuggled a gun into the police station.

Last year, PC Andrew Harper lost his life after sustaining significant injuries while attempting to prevent a theft in Oxfordshire.

Such tragedies are relatively rare in our country, but physical attacks on officers are a daily occurrence for many front-line emergency services workers, with more than 30,000 police officers assaulted in the past year. Most members of the public would be quite horrified by the types of these assaults, with recent attacks consisting of spitting at police officer and claiming to be Covid-19 positive.

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That is why I am fully supportive of the Government’s decision to double the maximum fines for people who attack emergency services workers. The changes to sentencing, brought about after Home Secretary Priti Patel met PC Harmer’s widow, will apply to attacks on police, prison and custody officers, ambulance staff, NHS workers, rescuers and firefighters.

The amendments, which form part of a government White Paper on sentencing reforms, will also cover convictions for coughing and spitting, practices which I consider as unpleasant as punching and kicking, particularly as they can result in officers having to have blood tests and anxious waits for results.

The next few weeks of lockdown are going to be challenging for our police officers and front-line staff. A minority of irresponsible people in our part of the world have already made their intent to flout Covid-19 regulations absolutely clear, and so officers will be using their last resort of ‘enforce’ to do their bit to stop the spread of the virus.

As they step into a hostile environment, or towards an emergency that most would be running from, it must be reassuring for them that they have the support of the vast majority of public who appreciate the fact that they, like those who gave their lives in Britain’s wars, place the safety of our communities above their own.

Alison Hernandez is Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner.

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