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In 2003, PC Patrick Dunne was a Sutton resident serving in Wandsworth when he arrived in Cato Road in Clapham on his bike to deal with a minor domestic abuse call-out. Hearing gunfire, he rushed out into the street and was hit by a single pistol shot in the chest, which killed him instantly. His murderer, Gary Nelson, laughed with his colleagues and fired a celebratory shot in the air, before driving off leaving two dead bodies behind, including the victim of the original gunshot. Nelson was caught, prosecuted and sentenced to 35 years. Sutton’s serious crime office, which is attached to our main police station, is named Patrick Dunne House, reminding us every day not only of his bravery, service and life, but the threat our police officers face each day.
In 2009, PC Paul Dalton, a member of the Wrythe safer neighbourhoods team in Sutton next to where I live, was on shift walking close to a local funfair on a Sunday. He was stabbed in the neck with a wine bottle in an unprovoked attack. He bravely managed to chase his assailant and make an arrest. Fortunately, his stab-proof vest prevented a more severe injury, and the person was arrested and jailed for five years. In London terms, Sutton is a low-crime borough, and residents do not expect that sort of violence, but police officers know that, however unlikely, something could happen at any time. As well as policing more dangerous areas than Sutton, Met police officers have to police public events and demonstrations, and face constant terrorist threats.
I have seen demonstrations turn ugly here in Westminster and the pressure that police officers come under when that happens. Six years ago, I watched from Bellamy’s café as protesters outside, right in front of us, picked up rubble from roadworks with the clear purpose of throwing it at police officers. I can only stand in awe at how police officers keep their nerve, as we heard from my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies, along with their patience and their discipline, and I have seen how pumped up they are at the end of their shifts. Parliament Square that day looked like a war zone, with fires all around.
Today, assaults on officers are still too frequent—frankly, just one is too many. Operational changes, as we have heard, as well as changes in sentencing and sentencing advice can help. Police officers face risks from spitting, including hepatitis, and may have to take courses of powerful anti-viral drugs, for up to three months, that can cause severe nausea.
I was very disappointed when the Mayor of London abruptly pressed the pause button at the last minute on the trialling of spit guards. As London’s equivalent of a police and crime commissioner, the Mayor is no longer a lawyer who represents people claiming against the police; he represents the police officers and their welfare, and he represents Londoners, so it is for him to maintain their safety. I hope he will look again at this issue.
As we have also heard, body cameras are a useful innovation for reducing complaints about police officers. I read an interesting report by the University of Cambridge, which suggested that incidence of assaults had increased for those wearing body cameras by 15%. The university acknowledged, however, that far more research needs to be done to explain what lies behind that.
A number of Members lobbied the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to protect the police budget and protect police numbers last time. We want to make sure that our brave police officers are out and about, acting as a visible deterrent, but also keeping us safe.