CASES of people spitting at police officers hit a five-year high last year.

Officers were spat at 229 times in Oxfordshire in the past five years.

But last year was the worst for police with 57 cases, up from 33 in 2011.

Officers yesterday said saliva could carry diseases and spitting was always dealt with firmly.

Oxford police are hit the most, with 111 incidents from 2009 to 2013.

Inspector Andy Thompson, Oxford city centre neighbourhood inspector, said officers were usually spat at when handcuffing suspects. He said: “I have never been on the receiving end of it but it is a disgusting thing for someone to do and it is a form of assault.

“Unfortunately in current times people can carry diseases and conditions that can be passed on like hepatitis.

“It is a particularly horrible thing for people to do so we do take it seriously.”

And Insp Thompson warned criminals could be traced through DNA, adding: “You can take swabs of it.

“But normally you would find it happens in the process of dealing with someone right in front of you. From my experience from the cases I have heard it is mainly someone who is in the process of being arrested or dealt with because of their behaviour.”

The figures were released by Thames Valley Police under the Freedom of Information Act.

They show the county saw 45 spitting attacks in 2009 and 53, 33, 41 and 57 in subsequent years.

South and Vale officers were spat at 57 times over the five-year period, Cherwell officers 34 times, and West Oxfordshire police 27 times. Two cases were recorded in 2009.

The crime is classed as assault without injury on a constable which can carry a maximum sentence of six months in prison.

Thames Valley Police Federation chairman Graham Smith said: “Any assault on a police officer is not acceptable, including being spat at.”