On Friday night I was delighted to join Cheltenham’s Street Pastors as they patrolled the town after dark. In just a few short years, their purple jackets, supply of flip-flops and lollipops have become a feature of Cheltenham’s nightlife. They are clearly valued, and I saw them getting a warm welcome from everyone – from door staff at Vodka Revs to police officers patrolling the High Street, as well as revellers on the Prom.
Happily, last Friday was not too eventful. Storm Brian no doubt played its part in that, lashing the town centre with rain.
But Gloucestershire at night is not always so peaceful.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to observe the night shift at Cheltenham General. Back in March I was out at night in the county with a local ambulance crew. And at the beginning of the year I completed a night shift with one of our Police Incident Response Teams.
What I witnessed on each occasion was sobering. From the drug-addled man abusing a paramedic, to the volatile homeowner threatening to assault a police officer, I saw and heard what our emergency workers have to face almost as a matter of routine.
Home Office figures reveal that there were over 23,000 assaults on police officers last year. A Police Federation survey suggests far more go unrecorded. There were more than 70,000 recorded assaults on NHS staff in 2016.
These crimes are completely unacceptable.
So I am delighted that both the Government and Labour front benches have agreed to support a new offence of assaulting an emergency worker. This will cover police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance personnel.
It will double the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year, and will send a clear message that society will not tolerate attacks on any of our blue light teams.
It has my full support. It’s time to protect the protectors.