Disturbing new evidence has emerged of how some criminals in Cumbria have used the threat of Covid-19 infection as a weapon against police officers.
Figures obtained by The Westmorland Gazette show that in the year to November 19, a total of 71 frontline police officers were deliberately coughed on or spat at.
In South Lakeland there were six instances where officers were deliberately coughed or spat on.
In the same period, the total number of assaults on officers was 358 – nearly 50 more than during the same period last year, with South Lakeland recording 50 assaults of police officers.
The worst-affected area was Carlisle, with 134 assaults of which 28 involved officers being coughed on or spat at.
In Allerdale, there were 16 spitting and coughing assaults, while in Copeland there were 12 such attacks.
The area with the fewest attacks, with just one, was Eden.
Of the 358 assaults, 241 resulted in a prosecution of the perpetrator.
Cumbria Constabulary also revealed that five accident/injury forms were submitted by officers which mention spitting, from these none sought medical attention.
The force said personal protective equipment (PPE) was introduced earlier in the year to protect officers on the front line.
Chief Superintendent Rob O’Connor said assaults on police officers would not be tolerated and each would be thoroughly investigated.
“Such incidents have the potential to remove officers from the frontline as well as cause distress,” he said.
“There was a notable rise in incidents during lockdown months in 2020 which can be attributed to an increase in the number of occasions where an offender spat at an officer or threatened to spit, whilst claiming to have coronavirus.
“No person should ever be assaulted as part of their occupation and the constabulary will continue to work closely with the criminal justice system to support our officers and staff.”