2,000 Attacks On Emergency Crews In Space Of One Year

Attacks on emergency service crews continue to soar with police clearing more than 2,000 cases within just 12 months, it has emerged.

Thugs who launch attacks on ambulance crews, firefighters or police officers were charged or summonsed for 2,315 offences in the last financial year.

This is an increase of almost 50% in the space of four years.

SDLP MP Eddie McGrady, who requested the information during parliamentary question time, said he welcomed a rise in the number of charges being brought against perpetrators, but warned the figure also highlights ” the overall rise in this type of violent behaviour in recent years”.

Mr McGrady added that attacks on the emergency services “have become endemic in some areas, and a culture within many groups”.

He added: “We must all do everything within our power to ensure that our emergency services are protected from violence or threat,” he said. “We rely on these vital services to protect and assist us – we must protect and assist them.”

Mr McGrady’s call comes as a police officer was being treated in hospital for injuries to his leg after a mob of up to 30 people threw bricks and bottles at officers as they arrested a man on suspicion of driving a stolen car in Belfast on Wednesday.

The figures also show that in the last financial year, 282 offences of criminal damage against the emergency services were cleared by means of charge or summons – more than double the number in the previous year.

Policing and Justice Minister Paul Goggins said that the PSNI has stressed that many of the attacks were “relatively minor in nature” and that the majority relate to interactions between police and members of the public during arrests, interventions in assaults etc, rather than premeditated attacks on police.

But Jim Barbour, senior union official for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, said a number of firefighters have had to leave work because of injuries sustained during attacks on them while they were trying to work.

Mr Barbour also claimed that there are more attacks on firefighters in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK.

“The union sees no great improvement in terms of this issue. The brigade is doing all it can but firefighters are still being lured into ambushes,” he said.

“It causes great stress on firefighters. These are the people who attend incidents on the ground, and put their lives at risk to save the lives of others.”

John McPoland of the Ambulance Service called on the courts to seriously consider passing down more custodial sentences on those behind the attacks.

A zero tolerance campaign was launched by health chiefs in a bid to reduce attacks on medical staff, however last year ambulance crews were attacked 140 times – almost three times each week.

“One is far too many. It is a problem which we are continuing to work hard to address,” said Mr McPoland.

“We provide care and training to our staff, we have strengthened glass on ambulance windows, and have installed cameras and alarms in the vehicles in a bid to keep crews safe. There was a case recently in Antrim where the magistrate agreed that someone had gone too far and issued a custodial sentence. We need to see more of this.”