UK: Avon and Somerset police statement over risk of HIV from spitting allegedly based on National Police guidelines

Police say false HIV claims over spitting were taken from national guidelines

Avon and Somerset Police still have not retracted their statement despite pressure from campaigners

The police force for Bristol and the surrounding areas say false claims made about the transfer of HIV were taken from national guidelines.

Avon and Somerset Police announced last year it would be introducing the use of spit guards in 2018 to remove the risk of officers catching diseases like the human immunodeficiency virus or hepatitis.

However, campaign groups were quick to point out HIV cannot be passed on through saliva and accused the force of “praying on people’s prejudices.”

The force did apologise for “any offence caused” to people living with HIV or Hepatitis B or C but still has not retracted the statements despite calls from campaigners to do so.

In January 24, a Freedom of Information request revealed no Avon and Somerset Police officers had caught an infection disease after being spat at since 2012/13.

When asked by the Bristol Post if the force would retract the statements about HIV, a spokesman said on January 25: “The information we used previously in the roll-out of spit guards was based on National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) guidance.

“Following feedback from the public and consultation with local charities, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Cullen asked the NPCC to seek medical opinion. As a result of ACC Cullen’s representations the NPCC has altered its guidance to forces.”

The Bristol wing of the HIV advocacy group ACTup! Launched a petition calling for the force to retract the statement.

A spokesperson for the group said officers deserve not to be spat at while working and the group is not calling for the recall of spit hoods but raised issues with the “poorly researched” press announcement.

On November 17 Avon and Somerset Police announced it would be introducing the use of ‘spit hoods’ across the force area from next year. The hoods made of mesh are shaped like a plastic bag and are put over the heads of suspects who had threatened to spit, have attempted to spit or have spat before.

The National Police Chiefs Council, which issues guidance to police forces across the UK, said the advice on spit guards has not changed since it published a report in March 2017, but specific guidance on HIV was sent to police forces after feedback was received by Avon and Somerset.

A spokesperson said: “Our position paper on this was published back in March last year and our overall position on this has not changed. However, after receiving feedback from colleagues in Avon and Somerset we wrote to forces to give specific guidance on HIV and spit guards – entirely in line with our position.”

The police chief’s council guidance on spit guards released in March last year says the national picture for blood-borne viruses like HIV affecting officers is “unclear “.

It adds: “There are annually a very significant number of officers who are receiving precautionary treatment to prevent blood-borne viruses initial following spitting and biting incidents. Some of this treatment is intrusive, debilitating and can have a significant impact on officers’ personal lives.”

The conclusion reads: “The NPCC position is that the risk of transfer of blood-borne viruses through spitting or biting is very low, however the impact of infection would be extremely high.”

HIV is found in many bodily fluids of a sufferer including semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk.

The disease is most commonly contracted through unprotected sex and the sharing of needles. NHS England states HIV cannot be contracted through saliva.

Published in the Bristol Post on Jan 30, 2018

Malawi: Police officers urged to stop criminalising sex-workers due to their HIV status

Malawi law enforcers urged to desist from criminalizing sex-workers over HIV/AIDS status

LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-The Malawi Police Services’ (MPS) officers have been urged to desist from criminalizing sex-workers due to their HIV and AIDS status when they come to conflict with the law.

This reduce cases of defaulting the drug prolonged-life, ARVs when are on remand cell as they become uncooperative with the law-enforcers

The call will also enhance cordial relationship men in uniform they have with sex-worker as they harbor criminals when playing their trade.

In an exclusive interview with The Maravi Post in the sidelines of World AIDSDAY that falls on December 1st yearly, Priest Mpemba, Kanengo Police Model station HIV/AIDS Coordinator, said time was ripe for officers handle sex-workers in line with human rights principles.

Mpemba who is also DNA Forensic Investigator observed that some law-enforcers criminalize sex-workers during sweeping exercises due to their serial status.

The HIV/AIDS coordinator added that the laws of land do not criminalize sex-work but the act of being conflict with the constitution including robbery and violence among others.

On legalization of sex work in the country, the DNA Forensic Investigators said the matter was a policy issue which the county’s leadership must trade carefully regarding to how the society perceives sex workers.

With extensive sensitization the station is taking on HIV/AIDS, Mpemba expects a cordial relationship between the police and the public in ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country.

On skills handling suspects living with HIV and AIDS, the coordinator said that the station expects fewer lawsuits.

“This year’s World AIDS DAY commemoration must focus as well on how sex-workers are being treated in the society. They are into that trade with various reasons but their rights must be respected as human beings. This is the reason the station using its own resources has been into intensive sensitization on the virus.

“Our officers should also treat suspects especially those living with the virus with dignity as human that they continue taking medication when are on remand. This will reduce drug defaulters and ease lawsuits the station receives,” says Mpemba.

Speaking Friday on World AIDS Day, at the Blantyre Youth Centre The Minister of Health and Population, Atupele Muluzi said that right to health is a fundamental human right, everybody has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

This year’s commemoration was under the theme ‘Right to Health: Access to Quality HIV Prevention and Treatment Services”.

Before the function, the Minister opened Umodzi Family Centre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. The centre will help facilitate HIV testing and treatment, TB screaming and offer reproductive health services.

AIDS is no longer the high-profile public health menace it once was thanks to the discovery in 2011 that antiretroviral treatment can not only suppress HIV in the bloodstream and reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but also, some experts predict, eventually end the epidemic.

Published in the Maravi Post on Dec 3, 2017

UK: Police accused of fear mongering by playing up the risks of HIV and hepatitis C transmission through spitting

Police accused of exaggerating risks of HIV to introduce spit guards

Force plans to issue guards to officers from January, saying people infected with blood-borne viruses use spitting as a weapon

A police force has been accused of fear mongering and stigmatising sufferers of hepatitis C and HIV by playing up the risks of transmission of blood-borne viruses as a reason to introduce spit guards.

Avon and Somerset police announced their plan to issue spit guards to all operational officers from January next year. “Each day we face being spat at, putting us at risk of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis and the degrading assault can have a lasting psychological impact,” said Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Cullen.

Spit guards are tight mesh hoods that officers can pull over the heads of suspects resisting detention to stop them from spitting or biting. They are used by 25 forces but have been criticised by human rights groups.

Avon and Somerset’s announcement came with an account by an officer, named John, who said people infected with blood-borne viruses use spitting as a “weapon”. He described an incident in which he arrested a drunk woman who had hepatitis C after she attacked a paramedic.

“She was continually spitting, spit that was bloody. It was disgusting; she was trying to infect us,” he said, recounting how officers donned riot gear to protect themselves as they stripped the detainee for her safety. “After the shift we all went home to our kids wondering what we were taking home.”

Rachel Halford, the deputy chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said she agreed that police should be protected from health risks, but rejected the force’s implication that the virus could be transmitted through spitting.

“Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and is therefore only transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The virus cannot be transmitted via spit,” she said.

“Stigma and misinformation about hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses is a key challenge faced by patients, who are already disproportionately from the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in society. Many patients report feeling ‘dirty’ and experiencing social exclusion due to misinformation about transmission risks.”

Kat Smithson, the director of policy and campaigns at NAT (National Aids Trust), said Avon and Somerset’s claims about HIV and hepatitis C were wrong and stigmatised people with the conditions.

“HIV is irrelevant to the debate about spit hoods because spitting simply is not an HIV transmission route,” she said. “In the history of the epidemic, there has never been a case of HIV being passed on through spitting, even when the spit contains blood.”

According to Avon and Somerset police, the restraints will be used only when a person threatens to spit, has attempted to spit or has already spat, and only when officers’ body-worn cameras are switched on.

Despite those safeguards, Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, raised concerns over their introduction to another police force. “There should be no doubt spit hoods are a use of force and have the potential to cause acute trauma and injury,” she said.

“We know from our work that mental health concerns or other difficulties often sit behind agitated behaviour. Our fear is spit hoods will become the default response and used against vulnerable detainees.

“We had hoped that after the restraint death of James Herbert, Avon and Somerset police would have prioritised safer, more humane policing methods with a focus on de-escalation and detainee welfare.”

Avon and Somerset’s police federation backed the decision, which the force said was in support of the national federation’s proposed assault on emergency workers (offences) bill.

Vince Howard, the chairman of Avon and Somerset police federation, said: “This option affords those officers, who are increasingly subject to this abhorrent act, the opportunity to protect themselves from the risks of serious communicable diseases.”

Data for spitting incidents reported on the Welfare Information Form shows there have been 79 spitting incidents out of 487 recorded assaults since April, which a force spokesman said was a sharp increase on previous reports.


UK: Inaccurate information around the risk of HIV or HCV transmission posed to police officers by spitting is stigmatising and hugely damaging

More than 30 years on from the start of the AIDS crisis, tabloids are still spreading a basic falsehood about HIV.

The claim has been repeatedly reported in newspapers amid a row over the use of police ‘spit hoods’ to prevent detainees from spitting at officers.

Amid a clash on the proposed use of spit hoods by the Metropolitan Police, outlets have repeated claims that their use will reduce the chances of officers being infected with HIV or hepatitis C – despite three decades of evidence that it is impossible to get HIV from saliva.

In a joint statement today, the Hepatitis C Trust and National AIDS Trust both expressed concern about the inaccurate reporting, pointing out  that both HIV and hepatitis C “are blood borne viruses, and therefore cannot be transmitted via spitting.” HIV is transmitted from blood-to-blood contact.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT said: “HIV is irrelevant to the debate about spit hoods because spitting simply is not an HIV transmission route.

“Using fear of HIV to justify spit hoods is extremely stigmatising and of great concern to NAT. This stigma and misinformation is especially damaging when a false implication of HIV risk from spitting comes from a source that people trust.”

Dr Stuart Flanagan, Clinical Research Fellow, Viral Hepatitis and HIV Medicine, Queen Mary University London, said: “Hepatitis C and HIV are not transmitted by spitting on someone else.

“Although these viruses may be theoretically present and detectable in saliva, the infection and transmission risk is negligible.

“In the UK the majority of cases of hepatitis C are transmitted by blood to blood contact, and the vast majority of HIV cases are sexually transmitted.”

The statement added that the inaccurate claims had been “hugely damaging as they reinforce existing stigma and misconceptions that surround both viruses.

“Such falsehoods also cause unnecessary alarm to police staff. Given the significant challenges faced by police officers in the line of duty, causing them to fear they have been put at risk when they have not places an undue burden upon them, and must not go unchallenged.

“While the debate around the use of spit hoods is an important one for the police, policy-makers and the public, hepatitis C and HIV are of no relevance to it and should not be used as justification for their use.”

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who had come under fire after saying there is “no evidence that spit hoods are necessary or useful”, told PinkNews in a statement: “This rational intervention made by the medical community is deeply appreciated.  It is important that medical professionals have clarified this unfounded belief.

“The arguments for spit hoods should be evidence based. The public expect and deserve a national debate to be fact-based, not fear-based.

“Police staff, who are often under incredible stress in the line of duty, should not be led to believe that they are at high risk of HIV or HEP C from spitting.

“Disappointingly this association has been propagated widely across the media, particularly in the past few weeks. Amongst social media users and in major tabloid newspapers, including the Express, Mail, the Standard and the Sun.

“I hope they will widely report this important interjection by Hepatitis Trust and the NAT. “

Canada: Ontario Court of Appeal rules that HIV disclosure by police in news releases does not violate a person's constitutional rights

Court ruling sets ‘low bar’ for police to disclose HIV status

Ontario Court of Appeal finds police didn’t violate suspect’s Charter rights by disclosing health status in news release

If a person charged with a crime is found to be HIV-positive, that could be enough for police to disclose that very personal and sensitive information to the public.

That’s one takeaway from an Ontario Court of Appeal decision that advocates say is cause for concern for those living with HIV or AIDS, which continue to attract stigma and misunderstanding despite evolving science.

The province’s top court overturned a lower court decision last week, ruling that that Durham Regional Police did not breach former youth pastor Kris Gowdy’s constitutional rights following his 2012 arrest for Internet child luring when they disclosed in a news release that he was HIV-positive.

Gowdy was arrested after arriving at the home of someone who had been posing as a 15-year-old boy online, to perform oral sex, only to discover the individual was a police officer. Police searched his car and discovered documentation and medication proving he was HIV-positive. The arrest and Gowdy’s HIV status were widely reported on at the time, making international headlines.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Justice David Watt said the police force’s actions in disclosing Gowdy’s HIV status were “clearly in retrospect not advisable.”

But the judges held that the release of that information did not violate Gowdy’s right to security of the person because there had been no finding at trial that the disclosure had a psychological effect on Gowdy beyond the impact already caused by the charge he was facing.

They also concluded that provincial privacy legislation contains an exemption for municipal institutions to release personal information that they have lawfully gathered if it is for a “consistent purpose.”

In this case, Watt said that the “consistent purpose” was to further the investigation “by inviting responses from other sexual partners of Gowdy” who may be at risk of transmission.

“The police had reasonable suspicion; reasonable grounds to believe further offences had been committed was not required for the purpose of the media release,” Watt said.

The court dismissed Gowdy’s appeal of the conviction, but allowed the Crown’s appeal. The court substituted Gowdy’s two-year conditional sentence, which he served at home, with a one-year jail term, although it said he should not be re-arrested because he had already served his sentence.

As noted by the Court of Appeal, the lead investigator in the case did not seek legal advice or the permission of the police chief or his designate before issuing the news release, did not seek medical advice to find out the likelihood of transmission of the virus through a sexual activity such as fellatio, and did not seek to confirm Gowdy’s assertion that his medication had rendered his viral load so low that it made transmission unlikely.

Gowdy also never admitted in his interview with police that he had had sexual contact with individuals who were unaware of his HIV status, the court said.

“The lead investigator testified that, to his knowledge, he had never before investigated someone with HIV in his 23 years of policing,” Watt wrote. “The investigating officer acknowledged he did not consider the Charter rights of Kris Gowdy before requesting the media release.”

Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, one of the interveners in the appeal, said in an interview with the Star that police should have turned their minds to what the actual risks of transmission may have been in this case.

“I can’t think what that ‘reasonable suspicion’ is actually founded on. I don’t think the suspicion is a reasonable one, all the information the officer had was that this accused was HIV-positive,” Elliott said.

“This is a case in which merely finding out someone has HIV was seen by police as sufficient for putting out a press release, basically engaging in a fishing expedition.”

He also described the court’s interpretation of the “consistent purpose” exemption as “very, very liberal,” saying it sets an “extraordinarily low bar” that police have to clear before releasing a person’s HIV status.

The case highlights what advocates say is a lack of proper training for officers in dealing with HIV-positive individuals and the absence of clear statutes governing the disclosure of such information by police.

Durham police spokesman Dave Selby declined to comment on the court’s decision.

“In general, I can say that we regularly review our policies to ensure they are consistent with all applicable laws and judicial decisions. We will review this decision carefully, as well,” he said in an email. “We will continue to respect the fundamental privacy rights of all citizens while balancing our community safety responsibilities.”

Gowdy’s appeal lawyer, Russell Silverstein, said his client is considering whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“When it comes to one’s HIV status, different considerations apply, it’s not the same as telling the world that the accused is suffering from cancer or some other disease,” he told the Star.

“You can’t say that the release of such information is per se a Charter breach, it’s going to depend on the circumstances, and the question is: what should the appropriate test be for the disclosure of that particular information?”

A former pastor with the Free Methodist Church of Canada, Gowdy posted an ad on Craigslist in 2012 looking for men interested in receiving oral sex, specifying he was looking for “under 35, jocks, college guys, skaters, young married guy.”

A detective with the OPP’s Child Sexual Exploitation Section homed in on the use of the words “young,” “skater,” and “under 35” in Gowdy’s ad, and began an online conversation with him, posing as a 15-year-old boy.

Shortly after agreeing to meet the “boy” for oral sex, Gowdy was arrested. He maintained in court that he never actually believed the person he was conversing with was 15 years old.

Gowdy, a former pastor with the Free Methodist Church of Canada, had kept his sexual orientation secret from his family and church, his 2014 trial heard. He had no prior criminal record and there were no complaints about inappropriate behaviour from the ministries where he had worked as a pastor.

“I regret incredibly my actions, they were foolish and inappropriate,” Gowdy told the Star in an interview in 2014. “It feels to me like there should be some kind of reprimand to these officers at the minimum.”

At trial, Justice Michael Block found that the release of Gowdy’s HIV status violated his constitutional rights. He circumvented the mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail for the luring offence, and instead imposed a two-year conditional sentence, which Gowdy served at home. Gowdy’s name was to remain on the sexual offender registry for 20 years.

“Mr. Gowdy had a right to make his own choices concerning the disclosure of his HIV status,” Block said. “No doubt he would have chosen his own method and different timing if he ever determined to inform those near to him. Absent evidence of serious risk of transmission and rigorous compliance with statute, no one had the authority to make that decision for him.”

Australia: Despite absence of risks, mandatory HIV testing of people who spit at police officers will remain

Police Minister Liza Harvey says the government stands by it’s mandatory blood test laws for offenders who spit at police officers.

On Friday leading HIV experts criticized the 2014 law brought in by the Barnett Government saying it had no basis in scientific fact.

Currently an offender who spits at a police officer can be forced to have a blood test to see if they are carrying the HIV virus.

Delegates at the Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference said they had “profound disappointment” in state government’s that brought in laws forcing blood tests for offenders who spit at police.

Scientists say its not possible for the HIV virus to be transmitted via saliva.

“Australia has a proud record of basing its HIV response on evidence-based policy,” Associate-Adjunct Professor Levinia Crooks, CEO of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) said yesterday.

“These laws are anti-scientific. The risk of transmission of HIV or other blood-borne viruses from saliva is practically zero. There is no justification for invading the privacy of people in custody by forcing them to undergo blood tests when there is no risk to the officer.”

“We understand the considerable risks faced by police and emergency services when they go about their jobs, but this is not the solution. There has never been a case of HIV transmission from spitting or biting in Australia,” she said.

Harvey, who is the Deputy Premier and Minister for Police, said the Barnett government has listened to the concerns of police officers and brought in the laws for their protection.

“The Liberal National Government had listened to the concerns of police officers.” the Minister said, arguing that in 2013 there had been a high level of instances where police could have potentially been exposed to infectious diseases.

“In 2013, 147 police were exposed to bodily fluids in a way that they could contract an infectious disease.

“This legislation allows for the taking of blood samples from the offender which helps in diagnosis, clinical management and treatment of the exposed police officer.

Minister Harvey said people were only forced to have a blood test when there was a possibility that an officer may have been exposed to infection.   

“The testing will only happen if there is a possibility of the transfer of an infectious disease – for example the transfer of bodily fluid through broken skin.” Minister Harvey told OUTinPerth. “We are committed to protecting our officers on the front line, who are committed to protecting us.”

Published in Out in Perth

Australia: Delegates at Australia’s national HIV/AIDS conference condemn antiscientific laws mandating HIV testing for people accused of spitting at police officers

Media Release

Adelaide: Friday, 18 November 2016

Delegates at Australia’s national HIV/AIDS conference have condemned the governments of South Australia, Western Australia and Northern Territory over laws that force people accused of criminal offences to undergo mandatory HIV and blood-borne virus testing.

The conference passed a resolution this afternoon expressing its ‘profound disappointment’ in the laws, which make it mandatory for people to undergo blood tests if they are accused of spitting on or biting law enforcement personnel. The laws were passed in South Australia and Western Australia in 2014, and in the Northern Territory in 2016.

Australia has a proud record of basing its HIV response on evidence-based policy,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Levinia Crooks CEO of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM). “These laws are antiscientific — the risk of transmission of HIV or other blood-borne viruses from saliva is practically zero. There is no justification for invading the privacy of people in custody by forcing them to undergo blood tests when there is no risk to the officer.”

“We understand the considerable risks faced by police and emergency services when they go about their jobs, but this is not the solution. There has never been a case of HIV transmission from spitting or biting in Australia.”

The full text of the resolution passed by the conference is:

As researchers, clinicians, and civil society representatives, we are united in our commitment to a HIV response grounded in evidence and protective of the human rights of people living with and affected by HIV. This conference expresses its profound disappointment in the governments of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory for enacting anti scientific and counterproductive laws mandating HIV testing for people accused of spitting on law enforcement personnel, in the face of overwhelming evidence that such laws are neither effective nor necessary. HIV is not transmitted in saliva and these laws only serve to further marginalise and criminalise people with HIV. We call on all governments to establish evidence-based protocols that protect the wellbeing of police and emergency workers and the rights of people living with HIV.

The Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference is the premier medical/scientific conference in the Australasian HIV and related diseases sector. The 2016 Conference was held in Adelaide from 16–18 November, in conjunction with the Australasian Sexual Health Conference.

For all media enquires, please contact:

Media Contact:  Petrana Lorenz — 0405 158 636  |

Czech Republic: Police drop charges against all 30 gay men living with HIV following Prague Public Health Authority ‘witch hunt’

All criminal charges have been dropped against the 30 gay men living with HIV who were reported to the police by the Prague Public Health Authority earlier this year after they were diagnosed with an STI, Czech media report today.

The draconian behaviour of Prague Public Health led to widespread condemnation by human rights defenders.

A petition initated by the European AIDS Treament Group (EATG) was signed by more than 1000 supporters, including the HIV Justice Network.

Today’s media report in Aktuálně.cz notes that three of the 30 men had been indicted for potential HIV transmission (under a law criminalising ‘the spread of infectious human diseases‘) but prosecutorial authorities withdrew the charges due to lack of evidence.

Police spokesman, Jan Danek, told the paper that following an investigation there was no case to prove against any of the 30 men and all charges had been dropped.

Australia: Up to 14 years jail sentences and compulsory testing for people spitting at police officers could be introduced in new legislation

Police in Australia are pushing for the introduction of a maximum 14 year jail sentence for people who spit at police officers.

The move comes after new figures reveal more than 1,000 officers are “exposed to bodily fluids” at work each year in the country.

Officers have routinely put there lives on hold for months to ensure they had not contracted any diseases.

South Australian Police Association president Mark Carroll said: ““When, in the course of duty, officers are spat on, bitten or otherwise assaulted in a way involving an exchange of bodily fluids, it’s essential that these officers have access to blood samples from the assailant that can be tested.”

The Adelaide Advertiser reported a case in May where a man spat at an officer and said: “I have HIV AIDS and now you’ve got it too”.

After sentencing the man to four and a half years in prison, Judge Rauf Soulio said: “Your comments about HIV caused him great distress. He felt unable to hold his infant daughter, who was born prematurely, for fear of passing on a communicable disease.”

“He had to deal with the fear of waiting for blood results, which were, fortunately, negative,” he added.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph police minister Troy Grant has prepared new proposals saying he hopes to make it a “new offence with tough penalties for spitting on officers and a mandatory testing regimen for offenders who spit.”

In Ireland, the offence appears to be at the lower end of the punishment scale. The Herald reported in June 2015 where a man, Liam Deegan, was sentenced to a month in prison for spitting in a Garda’s face as he was being led to the cells following a court appearance.

The same paper reported another incident whereby another man, Shamsiytar Shafie, received a four month sentence in May 2015 for a similar offence.

Published in NewsTalk on Oct 2, 2016