A FEMALE officer knocked unconscious, her head stamped on, her children asking if she’ll return home from work each day.
A male PC living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) almost three years after a gun-wielding man attacked him in a busy street, his dream job now a shadow of what it was.
“It seems to have become socially acceptable”: the words of West Yorkshire PC Laura Gargett, who, on Christmas Day 2017, was responding to a domestic incident in Keighley when she was subjected to an abhorrent attack that could have seen her killed.
She was one of more than 2,471 police officers across Yorkshire assaulted at work in 2016 and 2017 – a figure that in reality, is much higher as some regional forces were not able to give details for the full period.
PC Gargett had arrested a woman for assault when she began to struggle as she was being led to a police car.
“We were sliding in the mud and slipped to the ground,” she said. “I was trying to stop her from hitting me with the handcuffs, but at some point she managed to get between my legs and tried to bite my inner thigh – so I moved out the way of her, and she swung round and booted me, and stamped on my head.”
Face covered in blood, she considered herself “incredibly lucky” as the ridge of the perpetrator’s boots had fallen across the bridge of her nose, protecting it, so it was not broken, but she was left with two “horrendous” black eyes.
She said: “Because it was Christmas Day, and staffing levels were so low, I felt immensely guilty about leaving my colleagues on shift, so I carried on working that day, with my ever-worsening black eyes.”
The woman pleaded guilty to the attack, and will be sentenced in April. But this was not a one-off. Just two weeks later, PC Gargett, 47, was left with a blackened jaw after being struck at work.
“I have two children at home who were absolutely heartbroken to see their mother attacked. They started saying to me, as I left for work, ‘please don’t die today’,” said PC Gargett, who has been an officer for nine years.
“It seems like attacks on police are increasing. I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times, that animosity towards the police is increasing, or that the headlines around (the) Protect the Protectors (Bill) are making people see that you not going to get serious consequences if you attack an officer.
“For paramedics, or fire officers, they can call the police and have back-up, but for us, all we have is the judiciary.
“Their hands are tied by sentencing guidelines and that’s why we need the Government to amend the law and give them the powers to give punishments that will act as deterrents.”
Even after a court date, and a prosecution, the effects of an attack can stay with an officer for years.
PC Mark Hawley, 40, was given a bravery award for his actions tackling a man brandishing a gun and threatening to behead his girlfriend in a busy Hull street in April 2015. During the struggle to disarm him, PC Hawley was hit in the face, his jaw broken, leaving him in “excruciating pain”.
“It was nearly three years ago now, but the big problem for me has been moving on psychologically”, PC Hawley told The Yorkshire Post. “I was in a very dark place and was diagnosed with PTSD. I was left unable to do the job I loved, and I now work indoors. I no longer have the joy of being on the streets, chasing down criminals. This is not the career I envisaged.”
PC Hawley is still with Humberside Police, but in an intelligence role. His attacker was jailed for five years, but has already been released.
“He is now out, living his life,” he said. “What people don’t realise is the lasting effects on not just me, but on my wife and children. We (police officers) go into situations that other people actively avoid but people forget that we are human too. We have lives and families, hopes and dreams. We’re normal people.”
Police in West Yorkshire now wear body cameras, which can be used to gather evidence during a violent situation.
Deputy Chief Constable John Robins said: “At the end of the day, they step forward when others step away and it’s a difficult job. The most frustrating part for officers is the totally unnecessary abuse – when they are being spat at, punched and kicked, and the effects it has on them and their families. All of them have children, families, and partners, who they need to go home to and explain what has happened to them at work. For them, it can be devastating.”
While Halifax MP Holly Lynch remains “optimistic” the Bill will make a difference, she says she is “not naive” in thinking “that will be it”.
She is working with services to ensure staff are supported in reporting offences, and is continuing to campaign against cuts to services and to ensure police officers in particular are given the correct protective equipment.
She added: “To make a real comprehensive difference, there needs to be a package of measures; Protect the Protectors is just the start. “
The Bill covers all 999 responders – police, paramedics and fire service, plus search and rescue workers, coastguard, prison officers and NHS staff.
Ms Lynch said: “There will always be other public-sector workers who will face risk as part of their job but as part of this Bill we had to draw the line somewhere. While there is much more to do, and no one ever wants to see any public service worker attacked at work. We had to narrow it down.”
Chairman of North Yorkshire Police Federation Rob Bowles said attacks were prevalent because there wasn’t enough of a deterrent: “With this legislation the Government has acknowledged the difficult, challenging and sometimes dangerous role that police officers undertake.”
Bill to come down harder on offenders
The Private Members Bill creates a statutory aggravating factor, which means that when a person is convicted of an assault, the judge must consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor, meriting an increase in the sentence within the maximum allowed for the particular offence.
It will cover assaults and related offences including: common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and manslaughter.
The maximum allowed for common assault will be increased from six months to 12 months.
To be considered under these provisions, the offence must be committed against the emergency worker in the exercise of their duties.
The bill will cover emergency workers; this includes police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance personnel.