More than 300 prosecutions for assaults on police and emergency workers were completed during the first month of lockdown, the director of public prosecutions, Max Hill QC, has revealed.
Appearing before the justice select committee, the DPP said 424 defendants had been charged in England and Wales with a total of 660 coronavirus-related offences during April.
As well as assaults on emergency and essential workers, there had been 142 offences of criminal damage, 99 public order offences, 62 common assaults on shop workers and 44 cases of shoplifting. The Crown Prosecution Service is prioritising cases related to the pandemic.
Many of the assaults involved emergency workers being coughed at or spat on by people who claimed to have the virus.
Hill said: “It is disgraceful that hard-working essential workers continue to be abused during a health emergency and I have warned repeatedly that anyone doing so faces serious criminal charges.
“Offences which relate to coronavirus, including assaults on emergency workers, are being treated among the highest priority for charging decisions during the pandemic.
“All other crimes where there is a coronavirus element are also being captured by prosecutors so these can be treated as aggravating features in court.”
Cases in which defendants were still facing trial or sentencing were not included in these figures.
Hill confirmed there had been about a 3% rise in domestic abuse cases during lockdown. Those cases are also being treated as a priority.
He said: “We are as alarmed as anybody by the very difficult position that, in the main, women are put in, particularly in some communities, in enforced lockdown. It is very important that we say publicly that we are there to deal with those cases.”
Hill said he would have to wait to see whether any people who had been served with an estimated 14,000 fixed penalty notices, mainly by police, under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and health regulations decided to appeal against them.
A review last week by the CPS showed that all those prosecuted under the act, which deals only with those thought to be infected, had been wrongly charged.
• In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org