Suffolk man sentenced for ‘deplorable’ hospital attack on A&E nurse and police officers
A Suffolk man has avoided going straight to jail for attacking a nurse and two police officers.
It took six people to restrain Paul Ahchoon at the A&E department of West Suffolk Hospital, where he assaulted a female nurse and two male officers on March 27.
The 27-year-old, of Smith Walk, Bury St Edmunds, admitted threatening behaviour and three assaults in May, but magistrates delayed sentencing until this week for a psychiatric report.
Sitting at Ipswich, they heard how Ahchoon grabbed a nurse in a headlock and shouted: “I’m going to kill her”, as staff rushed to the aid of their colleague with a group of four police officers – one of whom was left with bruising to the right hand, while another was headbutted and left with a sore face, scratches and tooth pain.
Solicitor Paul Booty said Ahchoon, who already had five convictions for assaulting police, two for ABH and two for threatening behaviour, had suffered severe deterioration in mental health between conviction and sentencing, and was taken into custody for his own safety and sectioned on March 28.
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With Ahchoon now receiving treatment, a psychiatric report was no longer required to advise sentencing, said Mr Booty.
At the time of the offence, he added, Ahchoon was in the middle of a breakdown and had phoned the mental health unit behind the hospital on a number of occasions before turning up at A&E.
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“Had he been admitted, none of this would have happened,” said Mr Booty, who explained that, while in custody for his last offence in 2012, Ahchoon gained GCSEs and completed a higher education access course, and went on to begin a degree in biomedical science, before taking a year out to marry and have a child.
“He has been diagnosed with a number of mental health issues and is on quite complex medications,” said Mr Booty.
“He was sectioned for 10 days last year, and while undertaking his first year at university.
“If not for mental health problems, he would probably not be troubling the court.
“Mental health services are now taking him seriously, which is perhaps the nub of the problem and probably comes down to budgets.
“Sentenced to custody, he will likely lose that help and we will be back to square one.”
Ahchoon received a 16-week term, suspended for one year, and must pay £200 to his victims.
Pete Devlin, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust operations director for mental health and learning disabilities in Suffolk, said it was not appropriate to discuss individual cases due to patient confidentiality, but added: “In some instances, people do act out with very anti-social and distressing behaviours, which can be shocking or violent, and which in some cases can be drug or alcohol induced.
“This does not mean that they are in need of a mental health bed or should be detained for mental ill-health.
“Responding to people in distress is highly complex; individual’s needs are assessed and appropriate treatment is offered. Sometimes that support may be secondary NHS mental health services, and at other times it might be more appropriate to signpost them to other support services to meet their needs.”
•The nurse attacked by Paul Ahchoon was left with redness to the neck and a sore shoulder, and was still shaking and crying an hour later.
In a victim impact statement, she said: “It lasted literally 10 seconds, but it’s funny how it has shaken me up.
“I had to keep myself busy in the week before returning to work. If I didn’t, I’d replay the incident in my head.
“When I walked in for the first time, I was shaking and had sweaty palms.
“He was just out to get anyone to attack.
“It made me question if I could help a patient if they were in that sort of situation.
“Some colleagues were surprised I’d returned to work so soon, but I felt the longer I was off, the more I would dwell on it, and the harder it would be to return.”
Jan Bloomfield, director of workforce and communications at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The safety of our staff and patients is paramount, and one assault on a member of our staff is too many. We understand that coming to the hospital is a stressful time for both patients and relatives, but we will not tolerate verbal and physical behaviour towards staff when they are simply trying to provide help and care.
“We encourage and support staff to report all incidents, so we can ensure they are protected and safe in their place of work. We are proud of our staff member for bravely providing a statement to court, and have been providing support to them after the unprovoked and unnecessary assault they were subjected to.
“We have many supportive measures in place to protect everyone on our site and work hard to maintain a safe and comfortable environment for our patients, visitors and staff. We have CCTV across the site, and are well supported by our police colleagues. A specially-trained team to support colleagues with challenging individuals can be called upon at any time, and we’re also enhancing the security team we have on site here at West Suffolk Hospital.
“Thankfully, such incidents as this are rare. The Suffolk Constabulary team work closely with us and we’re grateful for their continued support and partnership, and quick response to this assault case.”
Last month, Steven Cook, 41, of Devon Close, Bury St Edmunds, was jailed for 20 months for barging into the Victoria Surgery and repeatedly punching a female doctor in face.
Following the sentencing, Dr Christopher Browning, chairman of the NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The NHS has a zero tolerance policy towards attacks on its staff, all of whom are dedicated professionals who work extremely hard for their communities.”
In May, Ipswich nurse Sarah Seeley, chairman of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Suffolk branch, led a debate on NHS staff being supplied body cameras at the union’s annual congress in Belfast.
This week, Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore promised significant investment in body worn video cameras to protect officers and staff after Home Office figures showed more than 300 assaults were reported in Suffolk last year.
At least 82 of the 341 attacks in 2017-18 led to injuries, while 259 were listed as assaults without injury – up 9% on the previous year.
A police spokesman said: “Suffolk Constabulary deplores any type of assault on police officers or members of staff. Part of their role is to support, work with and protect the public and we will take action against those people who attack officers and staff to secure a prosecution and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“By its nature policing on the frontline is a role that involves unpredictable, dangerous, spontaneous and violent situations in terms of people officers deal with, the locations they may find themselves in and at any time of the day or night.
“When officers do get injured it is a serious matter and we would commend our staff for their bravery and for their ability to meet a range of challenges on a daily basis in order to protect the public and uphold the law.”