“The right to protest and speak freely does not include the right to smash up property or abuse police officers. That behaviour is grotesque,” the Home Secretary told delegates at the first ever virtual national Police Federation conference.
Priti Patel also said the figures for police assaults were unacceptable and attacks on officers were ‘not simply part of the job’.
She said: “It’s a cruel irony that while most crimes fell during lockdown, violence and abuse directed to police officers increased. You were spat and coughed at by thugs claiming to have the virus; some of you were seriously injured and your vans were set on fire during the despicable events in Bristol and Hyde Park.
“The year from December 2019 to December 2020 saw a big increase in assaults on police officers and the figures are shocking. That behaviour is grotesque and I will never accept that it’s simply part of the job. It is an attack on the fabric of our society.”
Ms Patel was speaking after the address from the Police Federation of England and Wales’ national chair, John Apter, who acknowledged his ‘open and honest’ relationship with the Home Secretary and her work to support the police service.
But he said milestone achievements such as the Police Covenant and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would only come to fruition if courts used the power they now have.
“Those who do assault police officers should feel the full weight of the law so we welcome changes in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will see an increase in the sentences that can be given to those who assault emergency workers.
“But we can increase sentences all day long. It will mean nothing without sentencing guidance that is fit for purpose, so I’m pleased that the Sentencing Council published revised guidance which comes into effect next month.
“But I will be watching very closely; watching to see that magistrates and judges adhere to the new guidance; watching to see that there is an end to the perverse sentences being handed down – sentences that are, very often, no more than just a slap on the wrist.”
In his keynote speech, John also criticised the Government for imposing a pay freeze on officers but recognised the Home Secretary had offered support over Taser, the Police Covenant and moves to allow Specials to join the Federation.
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government was backing policing in a video address to conference.
Kit Malthouse, policing minister, also took part in a debate about Policing Under Pressure, the theme of conference, with a panel that also included Sir Thomas Winsor, the chief inspector at Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
There was a tribute to bravery award nominees and the Women in Policing Award was presented to Avon and Somerset Chief Inspector Sharon Baker.