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Man jailed for spitting at two nurses after claiming to have coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 17:33 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:33 29 April 2020

The incident took place at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The incident took place at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

A man who spat in the faces of two West Suffolk Hospital nurses as they tried to treat him - having earlier claimed to have coronavirus - has been jailed for eight months.

Zeb Fitts had been arrested after attacking a friend at a Bury St Edmunds flat, repeatedly punching his victim to the head and torso, as well as kicking him and smashing a mirror.

The 25-year-old then became “highly aggressive” while being arrested and had to be restrained using straps as he kicked out against police, before telling officers that he had Covid-19 and threatening to spit at them.

Having sustained injuries to his hand during the incident on April 6, officers decided that Fitts - who had been drinking heavily - needed medical treatment at West Suffolk Hospital.

However during a sentencing hearing at Ipswich Crown Court on Wednesday, prosecutor Richard White said: “A&E staff were not prepared for him to enter the department.

“Two nurses came out in order to treat him.

“Fitts was shouting and swearing. He was abusive to the nurses as they treated him and he spat at them.”

The nurses later confirmed that Fitts’ salvia landed on their faces and their personal protective equipment.

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Neither have had to self-isolate and have not shown any symptoms.

But Judge Martyn Levett said emergency workers “risk their lives for others” - and that offenders who deliberately cough or spit at them cause “fear of deadly harm”.

Mitigating, Lynne Shirley said that Fitts, of no fixed address, did not have Covid-19 and had been on a “slippery slope” from anxiety and depression after becoming homeless earlier in the year.

He later pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting an emergency worker, one of assault causing actual bodily harm (ABH) and one of criminal damage.

“He refers to being disgusted by his behaviour,” she said. “There’s clear evidence of significant remorse.”

However Judge Levett told Fitts: “I take the view this was of supreme seriousness and that you pose an immediate risk to the public.”

He sentenced Fitts to six months in jail for each the two counts of assaulting emergency workers, both to run concurrently with each other, and an additional two months for the ABH, to run consecutively - making eight months in total.

He was given two weeks imprisonment for the criminal damage, which will run concurrently to his other sentences.

Ahead of the hearing, Superintendent Kim Warner, of Suffolk Constabulary, said he could not comprehend what compelled Fitts to behave in the way he did at a time when NHS staff were on the front line of fighting coronavirus.

In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the Sentencing Council has put forward new guidelines for courts to increase the severity of penalties, with spitting or coughing considered aggravating factors.


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