A POLICE officer who was spat at and told “now you have got Covid" by a man who was being restrained in custody described the assault as a “deplorable act”.

Devante Durrant committed the “vile” behaviour against Sergeant Richard Stroud at Bournemouth Police Station in October last year.

As reported, last week at Bournemouth Crown Court Durrant, 25, was sentenced to eight months imprisonment for the assault, which he had previously admitted.

However, he failed to attend the hearing and Judge Robert Pawson deemed that the defendant had "voluntarily absented himself" having certainly known about the court date.

The judge said the offence was arguably the most serious possible for the charge with which Durrant had pleaded guilty to given the current circumstances of the pandemic.

In a statement issued to the Daily Echo this week, PS Stroud said: “Spitting at someone is vile enough, but to do it whilst shouting you have a contagious disease is a deplorable act.

“I had to prevent my children from seeing my in-laws when lockdown was not in effect to protect them in case I had caught anything and passed it on.

“I suffer with asthma so contracting COVID-19 is a real worry as no one knows how bad it will be until you get it.

“The fact the defendant didn’t even show up to court for this matter shows his blatant disregard for the judicial system and just demonstrates a failure to take responsibility for his actions.”

Bournemouth Echo:

After passing sentence, Judge Pawson issued a warrant for Durrant, of Grace Path, London, to be detained and taken to prison.

Dorset Police Chief Constable James Vaughan said: “Our officers and staff demonstrate commitment, courage and dedication on a daily basis.

“They signed up to help protect the public, not to come into work each day with the risk of being assaulted, attacked or verbally abused. Spitting at officers is particularly abhorrent during the public health emergency we are all facing.

“The impact such assaults can have on our officers and staff, their colleagues and their families can have serious consequences and we will do all we can to bring criminal proceedings against those responsible.”


Sentencing consultation

Taking into account the credit – the reduction given for people who admit offences – that had to be given to Durrant for his guilty plea, the sentence of eight months imprisonment was towards the maximum possible within the guidelines for an offence of assaulting an emergency worker.

The current maximum custodial sentence stands at 12 months.

A sentencing guideline – the non-binding structure within which judges follow in the majority of cases when deciding the fate of defendants – is currently under consultation for assaults on emergency workers.

The draft maintains the one year’s custody as a maximum sentence, which will typically only be applied in cases with the highest culpability and highest level of harm.

Judges must weigh up the details of the case when sentencing.

Bournemouth Echo: Devante Durrant was sentenced in absence at Bournemouth Crown Court last monthDevante Durrant was sentenced in absence at Bournemouth Crown Court last month

The following factors sit in high culpability (category A) for the draft assaults on emergency workers guideline:

  • Intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission
  • Prolonged assault
  • Use of substantial force
  • Threatened or actual use of weapon or weapon equivalent
  • Strangulation
  • Leading role in group activity

While these are the lesser culpability (category B) factors in the consultation document:

  • Lesser role in group activity
  • Mental disorder or learning disability, where linked to the commission of the offence
  • All other cases not captured by category A factors

Harm is broken down into three bands, with category one being the most serious when there is more than minor physical or psychological harm/distress. Category two is minor physical or psychological harm/distress and category 3 is no/very low level of physical harm and/or distress.

The categorisation of the harm and culpability gives a starting point with which the judge uses before moving on to assess any aggravating and mitigating factors to shift the sentence away from the starting point.

The draft aggravating factors for assaults on emergency workers outside the common points include spitting or coughing, the victim being isolated, the presence of children and a gratuitous degradation of the victim.

Mitigating features, which will typically be put forward by a defendant’s barrister, are outlined in the draft guideline and include lack of previous convictions, remorse and age/lack of maturity and mental disorder or learning disability (where not linked to the commission of the offence).


‘Imposing the sentences is key’

Dorset Police Federation chair Anna Harvey described the latest reported court case involving spitting as “yet another disgusting incident”.

She said looking back at incidents against federation members during the pandemic, there has been a “marked increase” in cases of biting, spitting and Covid being used as a threat.

Ms Harvey told the Daily Echo: “We need to see an appropriate deterrent, we need custodial sentences and we need judges sentencing guidelines to allow them to hand down the appropriate sentence because this is the only way we can deter people continuing to assault our police officers.”

Bournemouth Echo: Dorset Police Federation chair Anna HarveyDorset Police Federation chair Anna Harvey

She said the Crown Prosecution Service has reported that these type of offences make up one quarter – around 1,688 – of Covid-related crimes prosecuted from April 1, 2020, to September 30, 2020.

“But speaking about what I have seen in Dorset, we’ve definitely seen an increase in assaults on our colleagues and we need to make sure we get the right sentencing when this happens,” said Ms Harvey.

“Just last week we saw an individual who was handed three fines for three individual assaults on police officers.

"That just doesn’t send out the right message criminals, to the public or to our colleagues who are trying to do their best policing the pandemic, which has been challenging to say the least.

“Any increase in sentencing for attacks on our brave police officers has to be a good thing – however it is also incredibly important that judges and magistrates impose those sentences on perpetrators."

Meanwhile, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset Martyn Underhill said reports of the spitting and coughing assault were “absolutely horrifying”.

Bournemouth Echo: Dorset PCC Martyn UnderhillDorset PCC Martyn Underhill

He said no one should have to put up with something like this, adding that it demonstrates the risk that officers and staff face on a daily basis.

Mr Underhill said: “Although many people can socially distance at work, that just isn’t possible for someone who’s dealing with a confrontational situation.

“Any attack on a police officer or other emergency worker is completely unacceptable at any time and those responsible should receive sentences that reflect the severity of the offence.”