Belfast Telegraph

Hit, kicked and spat at - 80% of police officers attacked in past year in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

Eight of every 10 PSNI officers were the victim of a physical or verbal attack in the last year.

Officers described suffering assaults, including being hit, kicked and wrestled.

Almost half (47%) who took part in a survey said they had to deal with being threatened or assaulted with a weapon such as a stick or bottle. Also, 13% said they were assaulted with a deadly weapon, including firearms.

The findings emerged in a survey by the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank-and-file officers. Its chairman Mark Lindsay said the number of assaults was unacceptably high, and called for measures to protect officers.

Nearly three-quarters of PSNI men and women described being spat at while they did their job. Addressing delegates at the 45th annual PFNI conference, Mr Lindsay said it had long campaigned for the introduction of spit-guards.

"Spitting isn't the same as suffering a physical injury or bruise, but it is every bit as bad and every bit as unacceptable," Mr Lindsay said.

He said officers were also under attack from Government austerity, where budget cuts were leading to the loss of hundreds of posts. Chief Constable George Hamilton recently said the PSNI was facing a £20m cut in funds this year, and will lose more than 200 officers as a result.

Mr Lindsay added: "Austerity has inflicted great damage and it has to come to an end."

Delegates also heard how officer confidence in the Police Ombudsman had reached a new low.

Mr Lindsay said: "The recent revelations about a firearm in a drawer and the theft of the most sensitive of information demand that the Government must redefine the role of the office to ensure that the men and women I represent are not the victims of a witch-hunt, and are not hung out to dry without the benefit of an appeal process. Reform is not so much desirable as essential.

"There is an obvious need for an independent avenue of appeal, whereby officers will have meaningful redress against malicious complaints and inept investigations."

On legacy issues, Mr Lindsay said that the PFNI would be "implacably opposed to any attempt to equate the actions of terrorists with the heroic and selfless efforts of officers to protect the wider community".

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman criticised Mr Lindsay's comments. He said: "It is disappointing that the chairman has chosen again to air views that are unfounded.

"His comments are at odds with the feedback from officers who have been investigated by the office (and obtained through independent survey): 89% said they were treated with respect and more than 75% felt that the complaint had been handled in an independent manner."

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