‘No place’ in Sunderland for ‘abhorrent’ attacks on emergency services as councillors pledge zero-tolerance policy

Sunderland councillors have backed a motion calling for a “zero-tolerance” approach to attacks on emergency service workers.

In recent weeks, firefighters from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) were forced to wear body cameras after several city attacks.

A wrecked car is taken away from the scene of the blaze in Southwick. Photo by BBC Newcastle.

A wrecked car is taken away from the scene of the blaze in Southwick. Photo by BBC Newcastle.

Bonfire night celebrations saw crews called to Southwick and pelted with bricks, bottles and fireworks as they tackled a car fire.

Just over a week later, firefighters suffered verbal and physical abuse when rocks were thrown at them in Winslow Close.

At a full meeting of Sunderland City Council on Wednesday, leader of the authority’s Conservative group, Coun Robert Oliver, launched a motion on the issue.

It called on councillors to publicly condemn such attacks and praise firefighters who “do one of the most dangerous and essential jobs in our society”.

Aftermath from bonfire night on Cato Street, Southwick.

Aftermath from bonfire night on Cato Street, Southwick.

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“We must protect the protectors on behalf of all law-abiding residents of the city who are, of course, the overwhelming majority,” Coun Oliver told councillors at Sunderland Civic Centre.

“The prisons minister Rory Stewart summed it up well by saying ‘attacks on firefighters represent violence against us all’.”

The meeting heard there were 933 attacks on firefighters across England last year, including 148 in the North East, and 79 injuries nationally.

A wrecked car is taken away from the scene of the blaze in Southwick. Photo by BBC Newcastle.

A wrecked car is taken away from the scene of the blaze in Southwick. Photo by BBC Newcastle.

Over the same period, Coun Oliver explained, there were 17 attacks in Sunderland ranging from verbal assaults, bottles and bricks being thrown to knife attacks and fire equipment being stolen.

“Some may look to see if there are reasons for the attacks and it’s an interesting debate to look at that but I think we must be very very wary of making excuses for criminality,” he added.

In recent months, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill was introduced which will see the maximum sentence for attacks on emergency services and prison officers increase from six months to 12.

However, Coun Bob Francis warned of “loopholes” and “catches” around the law, including the limited sentencing powers of Magistrates Courts and potential cost to the “public purse” of dealing with more serious attacks in Crown Courts.

Coun Neil MacKnight also noted “sobering statistics” around attacks on emergency service workers, including physical assaults and sexual assaults on paramedics.

Related: Sunderland firefighters to wear body cameras after being attacked by rocks

“This type of behaviour is utterly, utterly abhorrent, there’s no place for this in a civil society and no place for this in a decent and honest city,” he said.

Following debate, the motion was amended to cover attacks on all emergency services after a request by council leader, Graeme Miller.

“The Labour group felt it was a stronger statement to include all our blue light services who rush into danger on our behalf,” he said.

“We felt we needed to cover everyone who does that for us in the city hence the amendment as we think its a stronger message to the community.”

Chairman of the Tyne and Wear Fire Authority, Coun Barry Curran, seconding the motion, noted the importance of partnership schemes to help reduce anti-social behaviour.

Following recent attacks in Southwick, he said that evidence provided through CCTV on fire engines and body-worn cameras could lead to more prosecutions in future.

More content: Firefighters attacked with bricks and bottles on Bonfire Nigh call-out in Sunderland

Newly-elected Southwick councillor, Alex Samuels, added that “swift and serious action” should be taken against attackers, “especially the perpetrators of the attacks in Southwick.”

The amended motions reads:

This council, on behalf of the vast majority of law-abiding people in Sunderland, condemns the recent attacks on emergency service workers in the city and will support a zero-tolerance approach to anyone caught attacking any such worker who do some of the most dangerous and essential jobs in our society.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service