Spreading Aids to be a crime

MUGGERS and people with HIV who deliberately spread the Aids virus face life in jail, under a new law to be proposed by the Government.

Infections such as salmonella and Legionnaire's disease will also be covered by the new offence of intentionally giving a person a life-threatening illness.

The changes are part of a major modernisation of the criminal laws, which will result in the abolition of offences such as grievous bodily harm (GBH).

But the most controversial proposal is the introduction of a new offence aimed at people who intentionally transmit a disease to cause harm. This follows a number of incidents in which assailants have stabbed people with syringes filled with HIV-infected blood. It also comes after the case of Janette Pink, a British woman infected with the Aids virus by her Cypriot lover Paul Georgiou, who knew he was carrying the disease. He was jailed for 15 months by a Cyprus court last August.

Home Office officials will be keen to stress, however, that the new offence is not aimed at people with Aids who may behave recklessly, but at people who deliberately and calculatingly intend to cause harm.

At least one Aids support group has already attacked the plans, which they believe will criminalise HIV sufferers and discourage people from having blood tests. However, the influential Terrence Higgins Trust has given its conditional support for a new law.

Later this month the Home Office will publish its proposals to replace the 1861 Offences against the Persons Act, which covers cases of wounding, GBH and threats to kill. The current laws are considered too complicated, expensive and confusing.

The consultation document includes plans to introduce the offence of "intentional transmission of a disease with intent to cause serious harm". The maximum penalty will be life in jail.

The offence could also cover examples such as a person who deliberately released anthrax pores into the atmosphere or injected meat with salmonella.

On the Aids side the new offence will be used in the rare incidents in which a person deliberately passes on the virus during sex. Janette Pink urged a change in the law following the conviction of her ex-lover.

It can also be used in assaults with a syringe filled with HIV-positive blood. There are concerns that these types of attacks are on the increase. In July 1996 a 15-year-old girl was stabbed in the face with a blood-filled syringe by a man who said he had Aids. He attacked the girl in Edinburgh after sticking a needle into his arm saying he had contracted the virus. Four months later, two prison officers were stabbed in jail by an inmate, who was a heroin addict, with a bloody syringe.

At present there is no specific offence which covers the transmission of the HIV virus, or any other disease. An HIV-infected person who had tried to pass on the virus out of malice could be charged with GBH with intent, but it is extremely hard to prove.

In 1992, the authorities were proved to be powerless when a 24-year-old married haemophiliac, Roy Cornes, was accused of deliberately infecting four lovers with HIV, one of whom died. While the case prompted calls for legislation, no action was taken against him before he died in 1994.

Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "There's a huge difference between someone with a syringe of HIV-infected blood and the transmission of an infection through a consenting act such as sex. The key is that there has to be a clear intention to transmit disease, rather than just recklessness.

"We are not opposed to having a specific offence of intentionally infecting someone, such as in a rape case, but the changes must not backfire and drive people with HIV underground."