A man who subjected ambulance crews to a vicious attack whilst they were trying to treat a patient has been handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) crew, comprising paramedic, student paramedic Andrew Raisbeck, and clinical care assistant Chris Bradley, had been called to a suspected drugs overdose at an address in Blyth on 13 July when 28-year-old Luke Gallagher, who was also in the house at the time and under the influence of drink and drugs, became aggressive and abusive.
When asked by Andrew, to calm down, Gallagher punched him and knocked him to the floor, cutting his eyebrow and causing bruises to his back and ribs from where he fell.
The crew called for police back up and took the patient, who still required treatment, out of the house and to the safety of the ambulance – but Gallagher managed to catch Andrew before the ambulance door closed, pulling him out of the ambulance.
Andrew managed to get into the safety of the ambulance and quickly locked the vehicle, before Gallagher picked up a brick and threw it at the side of the ambulance, causing the glass to crack. He then picked up a pillar from a nearby broken wall and threw it at the smashed glass, this time causing it to shatter, injuring Chris in the process.
Gallagher then used the smashed hole in the window to try and unlock the door from the inside.
He then resisted arrest, knocking the attending police officer to the ground.
A second ambulance was required for the patient, and Andrew was taken to hospital after sustaining a facial injury and bruises to his ribs.
The brand-new ambulance was off the road as a result of the incident.
“This is all I’ve wanted to do since I left the Army so I won’t let it put me off becoming a paramedic, but it has left an impact on me,” said Andrew. “The thing I was most annoyed about was that I ended up in A&E and lost four shifts when I’ve never had a single day off sick.
“I wasn’t scared in the house because my training kicked in but when it carried on outside and I couldn’t de-escalate it any more, I thought someone was going to get hurt. We would have been within our rights to just leave but we had a patient to look after. Their life wasn’t immediately at risk, but they needed follow up treatment and this incident delayed their care.”
Chris, who sustained bruises from the shattered glass, added: “Yes it was terrifying, yes it scared the living daylights out of me but I’m not going to let someone like him stop me from doing the job I love.
“It shouldn’t be but it’s just become part of the job and that’s not ok. We are here to look after people; for many of us this isn’t just a job, it’s a calling. We are not here to be attacked in any way, shape or form.”
Gallagher, of Blyth Street, Seaton Deleval, pleaded guilty to four charges of assault of an emergency worker, common assault, criminal damage and obstructing or resisting a police officer in execution of their duty.
Sentencing him today at Newcastle Crown Court, the judge said the offences clearly met the threshold for a custodial sentence and that he had a duty to send a message, particularly in light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, that attacks against emergency workers will not be tolerated.
He said Gallagher’s “appalling” behaviour had resulted in an ambulance being out of service, “not withstanding the implications to the staff members” involved.
However, in light of Gallagher’s mitigating circumstances, being a carer for his brother, and his obvious remorse and early guilty plea, he reduced the maximum custodial sentence down to eight months, suspended for 18 months.
Gallagher was also ordered to pay £400 compensation to the student paramedic and £1,000 compensation to the ambulance service for the damage caused to the vehicle, as well as being ordered to undertake 200 hours unpaid work and 15 rehabilitation days.
The sentencing comes days after NEAS called on the court system to impose the full powers available to them when it comes to sentencing defendants who have assaulted its staff.
NEAS was invited to have its say last month as part of a Government consultation on doubling the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker.
Over the last three years, the service says 171 incidents of assaults reported to the police. Of those, 40 resulted in criminal convictions. None were imprisoned.
Speaking after today’s sentencing, NEAS Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “We welcome that swift action has been taken and that Mr Gallagher has been brought to court. We also welcome that he has shown remorse. However, that does not excuse any attack on our staff.
“We take any form of assault on our staff extremely seriously and will continue to do everything within our power to support anyone who is abused in the course of doing their job to fight for appropriate justice on their behalf. There is an expectation from our service, and also from the wider public, that an attack on our staff should always result in the maximum sentence possible, recognising that those hearing those cases have a duty to take into consideration prior convictions and any mitigations brought forward to the court.
“I’m pleased that the judge recognised that this case met the threshold for a custodial sentence and that he wanted to send a message that attacks on our staff will not be tolerated. I understand that they have a duty to take into consideration appropriate mitigation, and that that has affected the outcome in this case.
“Our staff are here to help; they and their loved ones should not have to fear coming in to work.
“We chose to use the recent consultation to send a strong message that the current options for sentencing for our judiciary make it difficult for them to impose punishment that will be seen by both our staff and the wider public as appropriate to fit the seriousness of the offence.”
Superintendent Craig Metcalfe, of Northumbria police, said: “The actions of Luke Gallagher were quite frankly despicable.
“The ambulance crew were ultimately trying to treat someone in need and to assault emergency workers as they carry out their duties is incomprehensible.
“This was a dangerous and vicious attack, which not only led to a student paramedic needing medical attention but resulted in a much-needed emergency vehicle being taken off the road.
“He has also obstructed a police officer who had arrived on the scene to help, which is completely unacceptable.
“We will continue to work closely with partners to ensure anyone who assaults emergency workers is put before the courts.”