Praise in Commons for Echo campaign

A HARD-HITTING Echo campaign calling for new laws to protect 999 crews from attacks by thugs was today praised by the Leader of the House of Commons.

Jack Straw commended our Protect Our Heroes campaign, saying it had been instrumental in helping the Government push through vital legislation to protect emergency workers.

Our call for action came six years ago when we revealed shocking figures that showed crews suffered stabbings, stonings and shootings as they battled to save lives.

Since the launch of the campaign, the Echo has urged the Government to bring into force a law that would make attacking life-saving crews an arrestable offence.

It has long been an offence to assault a police officer, but firefighters and paramedics weren't offered the same protection by law – until now.

Early last year, the Government backed the bid by introducing the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Bill.

In December it was given Royal Assent, officially making it an offence to hinder or obstruct emergency workers such as firefighters and paramedics.

Fraser Kemp, MP for Houghton and Washington West, teamed up with Tyne and Wear Fire Authority to help push it through Parliament.

Before the Bill can officially come into force, it must receive the seal of approval from Home Secretary John Reid in the form of a commencement order.

In the House of Commons last week Mr Kemp said: "You will be aware that the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Bill received Royal Assent last year, and the Home Office has indicated that the necessary commencement orders are to be brought before the House next month.

"Will he do everything in his power to expedite the legislation so that it can be operational as soon as possible?

"The Sunderland Echo has campaigned for the measure which will protect emergency workers such as those in the Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service and others in the voluntary sector who often risk their lives to protect the lives of our constituents."

Mr Straw said: "I commend my honourable friend and the Sunderland Echo on their campaign, and of course I shall do what I can to ensure that the bill's commencement orders are brought before the House as soon as possible."

The law would also bring protection to nurses, doctors, coastguards, lifeboat crews and charity workers such as volunteers working for St John Ambulance.