EXCLUSIVE: Senior South Yorkshire Police officer investigated over comments made about colleagues undergoing HIV tests

Zuleika Payne.
Zuleika Payne.

An investigation has been launched after a hate crime complaint was made against a senior police officer over comments she made about fellow colleagues undergoing HIV tests.

The controversy centres around claims made by Zuleika Payne, chair of the South Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, during an interview with Toby Foster on BBC Radio Sheffield last Monday.

Boyd Livingstone-Navin.

Boyd Livingstone-Navin.

She was speaking about South Yorkshire Police's decision to introduce controversial spit guards from next year, in which a transparent mesh fabric hood is placed on a suspect arrested to prevent them from spitting at officers.

The officer said colleagues who have been spat at have had to undergo HIV tests and faced an anxious wait for results.

She told the programme that there are risks in relation to "contaminated saliva and the potential to contract disease.

"Sadly I have instances here in South Yorkshire of officers having been spat at and having to undergo testing for HIV and hepatitis and that has been a very stressful six month period."

An example of a spit guard.

An example of a spit guard.

But the comments sparked outrage with listener and sexual health worker Boyd Livingstone-Navin, who said it is impossible to contract HIV through spitting and claimed the officer only served to 'perpetuate stigma' around the infection.

Mr Livingstone-Navin, who worked for Sheffield Council for 12 years as a senior analyst promoting sexual health, reported the incident as a disability hate crime and police are now investigating.

The 41-year-old said: "Having worked in partnership with the NHS on its sexual health programmes and HIV charities, I know this (getting HIV through spitting) is factually incorrect.

"There has never been a case in history where HIV has been transmitted by spitting.

"I have spoken to health workers and police colleagues and they say if an officer said they wanted an HIV test in these circumstances, the NHS would refuse to fund it.

"This is because there would be no grounds for the test, because it is not possible to get HIV through spitting, even if it is contaminated with blood."

The Chesterfield man, a former chair of the Sheffield LGBT Network, said he believes Zuleika Payne - who has also previously served as 'equality lead' for the area - should be stripped of her Queen's Police Medal.

He claimed she used the HIV topic "simply for the stigma associated with the disease to get a shock reaction and support for her argument."

He added: "There has been so much work done to try and destigmatise public opinion on HIV but when people in high positions make comments like this it is really damaging."

He submitted complaints to South Yorkshire Police, the Police Federation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the BBC.

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said officers who have been spat at can request a blood test from the force's occupational health department, which would "screen for a range of possible conditions, including hepatitis, as well as HIV."

She added: "Following an interview on BBC Radio Sheffield, we are aware that a complaint was made and our professional standards department is now looking into this."

The Police Federation and IPCC confirmed a complaint has been lodged and will first be probed by South Yorkshire force before deciding whether to refer it to the police watchdog.

South Yorkshire Police said they are introducing spit guards as officers and staff are being spat at around nine times every week. But human rights campaign group Liberty called them 'primitive, cruel and degrading.'