CPS warns ‘coronavirus coughing’ at key workers is assault after Dagenham man faces court

Barkingside Magistrates Court. Picture: Ken Mears

Barkingside Magistrates Court. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Using coronavirus to threaten someone is a criminal offence, the Director of Prosecutions (DPP) has warned after a Dagenham man appeared in court for coughing at police.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) intervention comes after reports in recent days of police, shop workers and vulnerable groups being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have the disease.

Such behaviour is illegal and assaults specifically against emergency workers are punishable by up 12 months in prison.

Coughs directed as a threat at other key workers or members of the public could be charged as common assault.

Darren Rafferty, 45, of Bentry Close, Dagenham, faced Barkingside Magistrates Court yesterday (March 25) after claiming to have coronavirus and coughing at Met Police officers arresting him for another offence.

Rafferty admitted grievous bodily harm and three counts of assaulting an emergency worker.

He will be sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Wednesday, April 1.

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DPP Max Hill QC said anyone using coronavirus to threaten emergency and key workers faces serious criminal charges.

He said: “Emergency workers are more essential than ever as society comes together to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

“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.”

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

It also published a joint agreement on assaults on emergency workers with partners in the police, NHS, fire and prison services.