DISTURBING new evidence has emerged of how some criminals in Cumbria have used the threat of Covid-19 infection as a weapon against police officers.

Figures obtained by The Mail show that in the year to November 19, a total of 71 front line police officers were deliberately coughed on or spat at.

That figure is certain to have risen.

In the same period, the number of assaults on officers was 358 ­— nearly 50 more than during the same period last year.

The worst-affected area in the county was Carlisle, with 28 officers coughed on or spat at. In Allerdale, there were 16 spitting and coughing assaults while in Copeland there were 12 such attacks.

Barrow saw 12 incidents of coughing and spitting and South Lakeland six, The area with the fewest attacks ­— with just one ­— was Eden.

Many of those who have ‘weaponised’ Covid-19 in this way have already been dealt with by the courts, with some being jailed.

In one incident, a man was convicted of assaulting an emergency worker after he spat in the face of a police officer.

Police were called to Longway in Barrow after 57-year-old John White had threatened a man with a knife.

He was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Barrow's community inspector Gareth Jesson said spitting incidents had become more common during lockdown.

Chief Superintendent Rob O’Connor said assaults on police officers would not be tolerated and each would be thoroughly investigated.

“Such incidents have the potential to remove officers from the front-line as well as cause distress,” he said.

“There was a notable rise in incidents during lockdown months in 2020 which can be attributed to an increase in the number of occasions where an offender spat at an officer or threatened to spit, whilst claiming to have coronavirus. No person should ever be assaulted as part of their occupation and the Constabulary will continue to work closely with the criminal justice system to support our officers and staff.”