POLICE representatives have raised concerns over a "disturbing trend" of officers being deliberately coughed on or spat at in an attempt to "infect" them with coronavirus.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said the behaviour was "sickening". 

It said guidance issued by the Lord Advocate, Scotland’s top prosecutor, on the approach police should take during the crisis was a "missed opportunity" to address the issue.

David Hamilton, chair of the SPF, said: “It is sickening that people resort to this kind of malice against those that are trying to protect society. 

"This horrific conduct threatens the safety of not just our officers, but their families and colleagues too.

"The absence of specific direction from the Lord Advocate to keep such persons in custody was a missed opportunity to show that society will not tolerate such attacks on its police officers. 

"We need only look down south to see how offenders are being quickly and severely punished by the courts and we urge the Lord Advocate to match England’s stance and review his guidance.”

He said there had been more than 10 incidents around Scotland of police officers being coughed on or spat at in the last few weeks, but warned: "That could be the tip of the iceberg". 

Mr Hamilton added: "We have got officers who have got vulnerable people at home. 

"This has an impact not just on officers, but on their families."

He said police officers visit a variety of people and locations while going about their work.

This means any risk of infection they experience is a "public health issue" as much as it is about the safety of officers.

It comes after the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC issued guidance to the police relating to individuals who are arrested and taken into custody during the crisis.

Asked about the issue, Nicola Sturgeon said it was not appropriate for her to speak for the Lord Advocate. 

But she added: "If I can speak for myself, that kind of behaviour I certainly would think would be breaching the rules that we're asking people to comply with. 

"Certainly anybody acting in a way that is deliberately trying to infect somebody is something that I think police should and would be able to deal with."

She said she would raise the issue with the Lord Advocate and Crown Office.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “Prosecutors will respond robustly to any reported person who deliberately endangers life, or causes fear and alarm by pretending to do so, including by coughing on or spitting at someone.

"Such conduct, depending on the circumstances, may be an assault or constitute the crime of culpable and reckless conduct.”

“COPFS is working closely with Police Scotland to ensure the continued effective investigation and prosecution of crime, properly addressing criminal behaviour that threatens public safety and the safety of emergency workers.”