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MPs' lobby: Emergency workers

Alan Williams
Alan Williams wants to ensure emergency crews are protected by law, do you?
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has estimated there are up to forty attacks a week on fire crews.

FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist thinks it is only a matter of time before somebody gets killed but the Home Office has denied the need for additional legislation.

The Labour MP for Swansea West, Alan Williams, thinks England and Wales should make assaulting a member of the emergency services a specific offence, as it is in Scotland.

How the Emergency Workers (Protection) Bill works
It will be an offence to assault or impede emergency workers and helpers
Emergency service workers include prison officers and coastguards as well as fire, police and ambulance officers
A similar law in Scotland was introduced in May 2005 and offenders there face up to nine months in prison and a 5,000 fine
Violent attacks on anyone currently attract sentences of between six months and life in England

Do you think emergency workers are given enough protection from abuse? Is legislation the best way of ensuring that emergency workers are safe? How else could emergency workers be protected?

We have put your questions to Alan Williams and the interview will appear and on BBC Parliament at 2245 on Thursday 2 March and at 1745GMT on 5 March. His bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 3 March.

The comments below reflect the balance of opinions we have received.

The courts must make examples of these hoodlums who have no respect for emergency crews. If an offender's house was on fire how they would feel if the fire crew was late because they were attacked? There is no respect in society.
Liam, Romford

How will making it a specific offence deter those doing the assaulting? They're already breaking one law, why would breaking two laws in any way bother them? If you want to stop them, then you need to make them aware that if they assault someone there is a very good chance that (a) they will get caught and (b) they will get punished.
Alistair Gunn, York

I cannot believe any right-minded adult would not think it utterly reprehensible that an ambulance or fire-crew gets attacked and abused. I think if you impede a fire crew trying to protect a burning residential property, your house should be burned to the ground.
Thomas Brown, London

We will find it difficult to attract people to these jobs if there is not sufficient protection for them whilst on duty
Tom Howell, Leicester
Emergency workers should have more protection in the form of stiffer sentences for those that attack them. We will find it difficult to attract people to these jobs if there is not sufficient protection for them whilst on duty.
Tom Howell, Leicester

If the existing laws were properly implemented then there would be no need to even ask this question. Why should an emergency worker have any more protection than me?
Vincent Murphy, St. Dominick, Saltash, Cornwall

If somebody impedes the progress of an ambulance, and the person for whom the ambulance was dispatched suffered because of that action, then the perpetrator should receive a sentence similar to what he would have received had he committed the act on the victim directly - e.g. if the patient died, the perpetrator should be charged with manslaughter.
Colin Jackson, Telford

While I would criticise any attack on emergency workers, I do not support special laws just for them. If I am assaulted I suffer just as much as a fireman, so why should I have a lesser level of protection under the law?
Bernard, Leeds

Round up the scum and put them on an island with no emergency services.
Douglas, Milton Keynes

This sounds great as an emergency worker. However unless there is stiff support from the justice system at magistrate and court level it will just be another Act cluttering up the system. The justice system in Scotland is harsher. Will you bring the England and Welsh Justice System in line to create the deterrent?
Keith Settle, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

I have heard horror stories of school-aged children attacking people they had called out to hoax emergencies. Surely it's time to find ways to instil some respect in those people likely to be committing these offences?
Heather Bingham, Wolverhampton

I do not believe it should be a separate offence. The law as it stands should be applied more rigidly. To suggest that a fireman needs more protection than a taxi driver, for example, is simply divisive and suggests that one is automatically more important than the other.
W.S. Becket, Bangor, North Wales

I respect members of the emergency services, but there should be no special law covering them, it should protect everybody and be enforced with more vigour.
Mark Goulty, Portsmouth

The minimum sentence should be far greater then just six months, say two years with no early release.
Brian M Keith, Ellesmere

While abuse is not acceptable in any form I can understand in some cases why people feel the need to do this. In some cases the poor attitude of the public towards the public service can be attributed to higher standards of living and care people now see and experience while overseas.
Andrew Winter, Stonehaven

Any new law should also extend to teachers and nurses, especially nurses in Accident and Emergency.
Christine Cullen, Carshalton, Surrey

Those who repeatedly attack emergency workers should lose the protection afforded them by those services.
Andrew, Kent

We already have adequate laws - what is missing is the will to use them!
Marion Spencer, UK

I can see that a criminal offence specific to the phenomenon may help - but who is to police this when the forces are facing cutbacks? And who will finance the policing when we begrudge every rise in council tax? I don't see passing laws against this as rooting out the causes of this phenomenon either. We need to be looking at our societies to see why this phenomenon is happening otherwise I only see the offences escalating. Then maybe when people start to feel they are part of a community again then maybe they will start to have more respect and care for that community.
Tim Rice, Preston

Kidney Cancer, ongoing bladder Cancer and 7 years in and out of Urology Wards - One thing you learn is just how many pleasant, decent, law abiding people become highly aggressive and deeply violent in the delusional states cause by something as simple as urinary tract infection. Sometimes 6 nurses holding Granny down offers better justice than a criminal charge!
Greg L.W., Chepstow, Monmouthshire

Why sentence anyone to 9 months when our judges will only tag them if the sentence is less than 12 months. As tagging is a waste of time, a minimum of 2 years to life inside plus the 5000 fine regardless of age is needed.
Lee W., London

Laws are there already, the problem is the courts and Judges are far too lenient in sentencing people convicted of assault on emergency service personnel. The sentence should reflect the serious nature of the offence and at least try to be a deterrent to others.
Brian Turner, Lichfield, Staffs

I do not believe further laws to punish patients or other members of the public who attack emergency workers will significantly reduce the number of attacks. No deterrent will stop someone who may be on drugs, drunk or mentally disturbed from being violent as these behaviours are often spontaneous and brought on by panic. However, staff and emergency workers should be allowed to protect themselves to a greater extent and be provided with more protection, without having to be concerned of breaking assault laws or being sued by a patient.
Mia, London

All public sector workers should have legal protection. But like any potential law, it needs teeth. The nation should adopt zero tolerance here. Perhaps start at verbal aggression and stop these people becoming violent physically.
Shaun, Leeds

What good would additional legislation do? It is already illegal to assault someone. Perhaps additional funding to ensure a police presence at emergencies is required. Or the use of helmet-mounted video senders to record the identity of these hoodlums for prosecution.
Megan, Cheshire

Any attack on Emergency Service workers, although particularly awful, does not warrant yet another new law. The current laws are just fine - they just need to be enforced. Writing customized Laws for every social group undermines the whole point of a civil society governed by a set of equal and democratically derived laws.
Mark M. Newdick, US

No they are not and I think the minimum sentence should be raised to 2 years with no early release for any offender. I have just applied to become a "Medical responder" in my local area so the bill should cover a wider area of people, St John's, etc as well. Maybe we should fit out these emergency vehicles with CCTV as well.
John Burt, Sussex

Surely the answer is to enforce existing laws.
Max, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

I agree wholeheartedly with this new law, it is unacceptable that the emergency services should have to face this sort of behaviour. The Fire Brigades should be allowed to turn their hoses on the culprits and should be accompanied by police snatch squads who can take these offenders off the streets. A night in the "cooler" would soon put a stop to their nonsense.
John Salkeld, Sheffield

It is an act of unspeakable anti-social activity to attack emergency workers who are in the process of executing their duty. Emergency workers are a special case, these people have chosen to do a vital job from which many of us would shrink, it as an unspeakable act of cowardice for thugs to then treat these workers as targets for violence.
James Miller, Harlow

I am aware that this distressing 'sport' is played out weekly in some Glasgow areas, and that the full protection of the law limited the number of these assaults. It would seem ludicrous not to legislate for them, since the only people that are likely to be penalised are the people that are abusing these heroes.
Jason Pearce, Bristol

I think that there should be a minimum sentence of 5 years for anyone who feels it right to attack a member of the emergency services whilst they are in the line of duty.
Stuart, London

Isn't this just a clear admittance that the current laws on assault are not enough or do not work as a deterrent. This is just another law for the animals to break and a huge waste of time and resources.
Eoin Garland, Oxford

Rather than a new bunch of laws why not an amendment to the existing law increasing the original sentence by a factor of 3 for an attack on any member of the emergency services on active duty.
Robert Penketh, Barnsley

W.S. Becket, of course a fireman is much more important than a taxi driver. A taxi driver does not risk his life to rescue people in imminent danger.
Colin, London

The emergency crews are there to help, so any attack on them is also an attack on the people they try to help. Thus any attack on emergency service crews indicates a complete lack of respect for the needs of other people, and any one who is capable of doing this is not going to pay any attention to any legislation unless it severely punishes them.
Jonathan Raymond, Northampton

The issue here doesn't seem to be a need for new laws, it is already against the law to throw rocks at fire-fighters or punch a paramedic. The issue is the police enforcing the law, existing laws or new ones.
John, UK

Firemen should be given the right to give stone throwing teenagers a good hiding just like our troops quite rightly gave those teenage hoodlums in Basra. I am sick of yobbish teenagers thinking they have the right to stone people and then whining when they get as good back.
Elizabeth Philips, Halifax

So if the police do not enforce current law, the answer is to introduce more laws? Whatever makes you think the police will act then, if they do not act now. It may not be politically correct but have these youngsters arrested at the scene and, whatever their age, prosecute them to the maximum extent possible.
Ian Hunter, Sleights, Whitby

Why have a separate law? Surely these situations while wholly deplorable are no more or less serious than any common assault? Does the answer really lie in further legislation which is equally likely to be ignored, or in knowing where and why such attacks are likely to occur and having the methods and resources to be able to deal with them on the spot.
Malcolm Parker, Basingstoke

I agree with making it a specific offence to impede emergency workers going about their duties, but I don't see the point in making an extra assault offence. What is wrong with the ones we have? Surely there's no difference between assaulting emergency workers and any other person on the street?
Sarah F, London

There are enough laws on the statute books already. The problem is that the existing laws are not enforced sufficiently and the Courts take a too lenient view when handing down punishment. The "softly, softly" approach is well past it's sell by date.
Bob C., London

I agree with Alan Williams but I don't think nine months in prison is long enough to be a serious deterrent, more like nine years!
N Goldsmith, Grimsby

If the existing law is not resulting in prosecutions there is either a lack of will from the CPS to prosecute, a lack of will from emergency services to press charges, or an inability by the police to gather sufficient evidence and make an arrest. How will a new law change that?
Iain Ross, Cambridge

It should be a separate offence to assault emergency service workers. Just think what it must be like to attend a fire, car accident or other catastrophes and have bricks thrown at you. It's a disgrace that not much has been done to stop this.
Beryl Shannon, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

A lot of the comments on here say that there are already enough laws, I quite agree, but the fact is that there is not enough prison space to keep all the people who attack fire and ambulance crews because the prisons are all full of motorists, which is why the magistrates cannot hand down stiffer sentences to violent attackers.
Jake Long, Accrington

If these laws are passed in England, they MUST be implemented by the courts. As an NHS emergency worker in Scotland, I am frequently astonished that despite our legislation, sheriffs continue to dish out lenient sentences to these thugs.
Tim Wood, Elgin, Scotland

I worked for the ambulance service for a number of years and experienced the problem of violence at first hand. From my experience I do not believe changing the law will make any difference to the problem. The sort of people that commit these acts have no respect for the law and often do not think about the consequences.
Colin, Hartlepool

I think there should be a publicity campaign about this issue. I agree about extra legislation if it will help but I doubt it will. However, I don't agree when it comes to the police. The police can be instigators of violence and very often people are using justifiable force to defend themselves. In these situations the civilian is often prosecuted unfairly, Should the legislation be in place the situation for innocent victims of police brutality would be much worse. Of course not all police engage in this type of activity but as many are caused through misjudgement as bad practice.
Norman Peacock, Birmingham

My only reservation is that if security in NHS establishments is so paltry that thieves can walk off with millions of pounds worth of equipment, then what will protect the workers?
Roy Hills, Eastbourne

What is needed is practical deterrence - CCTV, police attendance when fire crews visit likely trouble areas etc. - followed up by prosecutions using existing laws.
Richard Gosling, Aberdeen, Scotland

It is disgraceful that workers that do so much to protect the public on a daily basis (this also includes other groups in many other professions) are unable to protect themselves. These dedicated workers need to be able to work without fear of attack from the very people they are trying to help. The house needs to work on a law that ensures that all workers are safe in the workplace and that they are given the support they deserve for the important work they do.
Raeann Crossan, London

I can fully understand Mr Williams imagining that what he is doing is right and needed in order to protect these vital personnel but I would urge him to reconsider making them a special case and concentrate his efforts on introducing legislation that actually works for everybody.
Stuart Bagshaw, Aylesbury, Bucks

There is a simple answer to those who believe that emergency workers should not have special laws relating to assaults on them: emergency workers are routinely asked to enter dangerous situations and potentially risk their lives in order to help others. The average person is not going to be asked to do this and lets face it is unlikely to.
Will Ryan, London

Maybe rescue vehicles could be fitted with video cameras (like police cars) so they could possibly record any incidents and have a chance to identify culprits?
Luke May, Leicester

I think the Fire Service should be given free rein to redirect their hoses on any troublemakers.
Andrew, Bath

I fully support this proposal. Assaulting anyone without reason is bad enough but assaulting a member of the emergency services whilst trying to save lives should be punished more severely.
Andy Robson, Lytham

Is there any point in making it a specific offence? If the offender is found guilty all they get is a slap on the wrist. You can drive without a licence, car tax and insurance and kill somebody and only get 12 weeks.
TJ Newman, Bournemouth

These workers need protection. You can either show this is unacceptable or give a message that a little latitude is acceptable.
George, Chelmsford

I would like to know what kind of people are carrying out these attacks. One day these people might need the emergency services and they are not available to help - I think that would be poetic justice.
Cheryl, Swindon

I work alongside the emergency services every day. I and my colleagues too get abused and face hostility from time to time but there is little point in complaining despite the notices warning of such behaviour. Frequently it isn't worth the hassle or the courts time, so I just hold my breath and grit my teeth.
Tony, Welling, Kent

There should be an automatic custodial sentence of two years for anybody who assaults or hinders any emergency services worker in the course of them doing their duty. As usual, the Home Office is totally out of touch with public opinion.
Ken Thompson, UK

You can have as many laws as you like. Until we have sufficient numbers of police officers to implement them, it will make no difference. All categories of criminals (from yobs to safecrackers) know this and believe that our inability to enforce our laws is due to an unwillingness to do so. Thus they believe have a licence to carry on.
John Lawrence, Southampton

I think that legislation sounds a good idea but they should also seriously look at what is being taught in schools. I'm sure it's mainly "children" and is extremely indicative of what can be selfish, thoughtless attitudes in some areas.
Pat, London

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