21 July 2005

Thugs face two years' jail for attacking firefighters


21/07/2005 - 14:29:59

Thugs who attack firefighters in the North face up to two years in jail under tough new plans, it was warned today.

Public safety minister Shaun Woodward announced a zero-tolerance approach to gangs ambushing crew members on a near daily basis.

He pledged: “I am not prepared to tolerate such attacks and intend to punish those people who think it is acceptable to endanger the lives of firefighters.

“Those who continue to carry out these mindless attacks will now face the threat of going to court and a possible prison sentence.”

The government revealed last month there had been more than 2,500 attacks on the emergency services over the past 12 months, including 301 on Fire Service members.

Under the Draft Fire and Rescue Services legislation it will be an offence to assault crews as they carry out duties.

The draft plans, which will go out to consultation, also requires the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service to provide assistance at road crash scenes.

But it was the heavy punishments for vandals that drew the greatest response.

The most serious offenders could be jailed for up to two years and face unlimited fines, while penalties for the less severe would be six months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 (€7,200) fine.

“Firefighters work to protect us. I want to ensure that they are also given every protection while they work,” added Mr Woodward.

His announcement was praised by Jim Barbour of the Fire Brigades Union.

Mr Barbour, who met the minister to express concern at the attacks, said: “This is a daily problem.

“Only last night we had another attack on firefighters in north Belfast, and at the weekend in the sleepy village of Killyleagh there were three separate attacks.

“The FBU raised this issue with the Minister at Stormont and we are pleased to see he has listened to us.

“It’s a step forward and seems robust, but legislation was already long overdue.”

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