Drunk headbutted, punched and hit firefighters as they tackled blaze in Sunderland

Clinton Barnes
Clinton Barnes

A drunk assaulted three firefighters in what the brigade described as the worst incident of its type in more than 20 years.

Clinton Barnes turned to violence after he got into a fire appliance while firefighters were dealing with a blaze in his street.

Alan Robson

Alan Robson

Barnes butted one firefighter, punched another on the nose, and hit a third on the side of his head, Sunderland Magistrates' Court heard.

"The brigade had been called to deal with a fire in a house in Railway Terrace North in New Herrington," said Glenda Beck, prosecuting.

"It was about 4.45pm, and there were reports someone may be trapped in the property.

"Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus established there was no one inside.

Russ King

Russ King

"Barnes got into the driver's seat of a Sprinter van belonging to the brigade.

"Fire officer Paul Thompson asked him to leave. As he did so, Barnes butted Mr Thompson, hitting him on the helmet."

The court heard Barnes left the scene, but returned a few minutes later when he got into a fire appliance.

"He was challenged again," added Ms Beck. "Barnes said he just wanted to get a photo of him in the appliance for his bairn.

"He had to be forcibly removed by the firefighters.

"During the scuffle which ensued, firefighter Barry Little was punched on the nose, and firefighter Sebastian Wild was hit on the side of his head.

"Firefighter Little suffered a burst nose and blood loss. Firefighter Wild had a reddened ear."

In a victim personal statement made on behalf of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, assistant chief fire officer Alan Robson said assaults, theft and vandalism against firefighters and their equipment are on the increase, and this was the most serious case he had dealt with in more than 20 years.

He added: "It is sad that we have cause to make such a statement as this.

"There was a physical and psychological impact on the officers concerned.

"The appliance was put out of action for a short time, causing cover to be needed, which in turn puts a further strain on resources.

"Community engagement ceased in that area after the attack, and we had to call on police escorts when attending incidents."

Barnes, 34, of Railway Terrace North, New Herrington, admitted three charges of common assault, all on April 5.

Ian Jordan, defending, said: "Firefighters carry out an important job on behalf of the community.

"They should not have to put up with their work being interrupted by the likes of Mr Barnes. What led to his offending was the demon drink.

"There was no premeditation, and he did leave the van when asked to do so.

"He was annoyed at the time at being put out of the fire appliance, although he accepts he shouldn't have been in it.

"Mr Barnes has a range of health issues, and needs to learn drink and his prescribed medication do not mix."

Barnes was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, including 25 days of rehabilitation activity.

He was ordered to pay £100 compensation each to firefighters Thompson and Wild, and £150 compensation to firefighter Little.

'Abhorrent and deplorable' attacks

Assistant chief fire officer Alan Robson said Between April 1st and 31st July this year, there were 15 incidents where fire crews were subjected to verbal or physical abuse, or had missiles thrown at themselves or their vehicles.

He said: “Attacks on emergency service workers are abhorrent and deplorable.

“It is totally unacceptable that firefighters are obstructed in carrying out their duties and subjected to physical or verbal abuse. Only a few weeks after the incident in Houghton-le-Spring our crews came under attack when attending a deliberately set woodland fire in the Gateshead area.

“Our crews have to be allowed to carry out their work protecting the public. If they find themselves under attack, we will always look to take the strongest action possible against the perpetrators.”

Russ King, secretary for the Tyne & Wear branch of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said; “This was a cowardly, senseless and completely unacceptable attack on firefighters who at the end of the day were only working to keep the public safe. As a result of this attack firefighters had to defend themselves, instead of being left to focus on the incident that they had been called to deal with.

“Ultimately the safety of our members and the public was compromised as a result of this assault and could have delayed efforts to contain the fire.”