Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Did this offender "get away with it"

The Essex Police Federation reports - "Man ordered to pay just £50 after spitting blood in officer's face" - Daily Express 26 September.  An Essex Police Officer who had blood spat in his face during a ‘disgusting’ assault as he made an arrest has hit out at the leniency the courts showed to his attacker.   PC Rhys Linge says his assailant, who was ordered to pay him £50 in compensation, will ‘feel like he’s got away with it’ and that he and his colleagues are feeling increasingly let down by the courts."

The officer
had been called out to assist colleagues dealing with reports of a man damaging property. 
The officers managed to get the man under control, and administered first aid to him, as he had sustained a face injury which was bleeding heavily.  As he was read the details of why he was being arrested he screamed out and sprayed some blood into the air.   PC Linge asked him not to spit as blood was continuing to drip into his mouth from a nose injury.   The suspect then began to struggle and, as he was being led away, he spat out at PC Linge showering his face, glasses and radio in bloody saliva.

PC Linge is reported to have said - "I went back to the station and my Inspector became aware of the incident and that spit and blood had gone into my mouth and over my face.  I had to go to hospital and have a blood test. I’ve only just got the results back and they look like they are all clear. I’ll send them up to occupational health, but the wait for the results which has been nearly two weeks has been quite traumatic, waiting to see whether I’ve got what he might have got."
Clearly this was a disgusting offence and Police Officers deserve the protection of the law.   Here was a serious assault with considerable risk that infection could be passed on to the victim - NHS - Risk of infection.   It appears that, fortuitously, no infection was actually transmitted but the victim had to attend hospital for tests and then suffered distress whilst awaiting the outcome.

Assaulting a Police Officer could be charged as "Common Assault" (Criminal Justice Act 1988 s.39) but there is a specific offence under the Police Act 1996 s.89 .  The media reports do not tell us the exact charge so let's assume it was the section 89 offence.  The section reads:  "Any person who assaults a constable in the execution of his duty, or a person assisting a constable in the execution of his duty, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both."  (Note 1)

A compensation order can be a sentence in its own right but let's see what the Magistrates' Court sentencing guidelines indicate. (Note 2).

The court must first decide the "Offence Category" -

The guidelines contain a list of factors relating to culpability and the harm caused and the court is required to assess Offence Category by reference ONLY to those factors.    We don't know how the court assessed this so, for argument's sake, let's assume Category 2.

Next, the court obtains the starting point and sentencing range:

So, for a Category 2 offence the guidelines require a Starting Point of Medium Level Community Order with a range of Low Level Community Order to a High Level Community Order.  (Levels of community order are explained HERE).  The court has to look at the factors which increase seriousness (e.g. previous convictions) and also at those which reduce seriousness or which reflect personal mitigation (e.g. no previous convictions, remorse etc).  The offender in question is said to have a previous conviction for assaulting an officer.

It has to be noted that, under the guidelines, imprisonment is not reached for this offence unless it is within Offence Category 1.

The guidelines do not seem to me to take assaults on Police Officers seriously enough but that is only my personal opinion.  The guidelines are set by the Sentencing Council which promotes greater consistency in sentencing, whilst maintaining the independence of the judiciary. The Council produces guidelines on sentencing for the judiciary and criminal justice professionals and aims to increase public understanding of sentencing. 

Overall, one might have expected the outcome to be a community sentence toward the higher level BUT there was another matter before the court - the criminal damage charge.  We are not given any details of this though we are informed that the sentence was a 12 Month Community Order and a Rehabilitation activity requirement for 40 days and a Programme requirement for 29 days.


It seems that the court considered the totality of the offending.  Separate Sentencing Council guidance deals with this - HERE.

Applying this principle, a court would not simply add up the sentences for each offence.  The aim is to achieve a just and proportionate sentence for the offending as a whole. 

Whether the court got this "right" is a matter for some debate but it appears, at least to me, that the court applied the guidelines and reached a sentence which takes into account totality and is aimed mainly at rehabilitation of this offender - (see Sentencing purposes).  Nevertheless, it does appear somewhat unsatisfactory that the assault on PC Linge was marked only by a compensation order for a relatively small sum.

Other reports of the case are at BBC News and The Sun.


Note 1

Level 5 is, since 12 March 2015, unlimited.  This change was brought about by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 section 85.  See also the Explanatory Notes for section 85.  There are some instances where section 85 has been disapplied - see the Regulations effecting the change.

Note 2

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