MPs back law to protect blue-light staff from abuse

Holly Lynch MP with Chief Insp Nick Smart, Chair West Yorkshire Police Federation
Holly Lynch MP with Chief Insp Nick Smart, Chair West Yorkshire Police Federation

Tougher penalties for people who attack emergency workers have moved a step closer after MPs unanimously backed measures to “protect the protectors”.

Labour former Minister Chris Bryant’s proposed legislation aims to tackle a rise in attacks on blue-light staff, which includes an alarming increase in reported sexual assaults on ambulance workers.

The Bill, passed at its third reading, creates a new offence for assaulting an emergency worker which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail. It covers more emergency-service staff and doubles the sentence compared to existing law. Being an emergency worker will also be treated as an aggravating factor in cases of sexual assault.

Speaking at the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill’s third reading, Mr Bryant said: “The aim is not primarily to send lots more minor criminals to prison for short periods, but what we do want to do is send out a very clear message that assaulting an emergency worker is not a minor offence, it is a serious offence and we in Parliament take it seriously and we expect the prosecuting authorities to take it equally seriously.

“We want to be able to say to every single police constable, prison officer, custody officer, paramedic, nurse, fire officer, A&E consultant, lifeboat officer, A&E porter, ambulance driver and Mines Rescue officer for that matter, that we stand with you. We will protect our protectors.”

Mr Bryant said trade unions had reported increases in sexual assaults on ambulance staff of 400 per cent in Yorkshire, 500 per cent in the West Midlands, 143 per cent in the East of England and 1,500 per cent in Northern Ireland.

He said: “When you’ve got 238 cases in the East of England ambulance service of sexual assaults on ambulance workers, I think Parliament has to take cognisance of that and act.”

Labour’s Halifax MP Holly Lynch, who helped draw up the Bill, said she met with paramedics who had been dispatched to the address of someone who had recently sexually assaulted them, pending a court appearance.

She also shared the story of an ambulance worker who had to stay with a patient who assaulted her until they arrived at hospital because “first and foremost he needed medical attention and she could not walk away and she could not escape him”.

The Bill passed unanimously at third reading and will now undergo further scrutiny in the Lords.

Ms Lynch said afterwards: “I’m delighted that the bill passed its final reading and should become law by the end of the year. Our emergency-service workers are there to save lives and deserve the best protections possible. MPs have sent a message loud and clear to the people who would assault these staff, that this will absolutely not be tolerated.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, also welcomed the passing of the Bill. He said: “Our emergency-service staff work tirelessly and selflessly to keep us safe and it is crucially important that we do all we can to support them back.

“It’s also reassuring to see that sexual assaults have now been added to the list of assaults in the Bill. I previously wrote to West Yorkshire MPs and the Home Secretary to ask that they show their full support for the Bill and the inclusion of sexual assaults.”