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Jail term for woman who ‘coughed repeatedly’ at ‘shielding’ neighbour

A drunk woman who repeatedly coughed towards a neighbour who was shielding at the start of the Covid pandemic has been given a three months prison term.

A judge told Lesley Ann Stewart (31) that on April 10, 2020 it would have been a “scary” incident for the victim as at the time there were big fears over coronavirus.

Stewart, who had 43 previous convictions, appeared via video link at Antrim Magistrates’ Court, sitting in Ballymena, on Tuesday May 17 for sentencing on a charge of common assault.

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Stewart’s address was listed as Moorland Heights in The Grange near Toomebridge but is now living at Gloonan Hill in Ahoghill, the court was told.

Ballymena Courthouse.

A prosecutor said police received a call that Stewart approached a female and “coughed on her”.

The prosecutor said a woman said she was sitting at her front door whilst her husband cleaned their car at 2.30pm. She had been issued with a 12-week ‘shielding’ notice by the NHS due to an “underlying health condition”.

The woman saw Stewart “banging” on and shouting at a neighbour’s door for around five to 10 minutes with no answer.

The defendant then “without provocation turned and ran towards the injured party whilst coughing repeatedly at her”.

Stewart got within “touching distance” and the woman was in “immediate fear of being attacked”.

The woman jumped from her chair in an attempt to get away causing her to fall, resulting in cuts.

Stewart told police she couldn’t remember anything due to be being drunk.

A defence lawyer said at the time of the offence there had been a “fear of the unknown” over Covid but the defendant, a mother-of-one, has now demonstrated “victim awareness”.

She said the defendant had been addicted to alcohol but has been “sober” since November.

District Judge Nigel Broderick told the lawyer: “This was at the start of the pandemic and the victim was more prone to the effects of coronavirus than perhaps others. She had received a ‘shielding’ notice and your client turns up and then chases her down, coughs repeatedly, no doubt in an attempt to try and infect her.

“I can’t imagine anything more scary. Hindsight is a great gift and we’ve all got the benefit of, those who availed of it, of a vaccine but at the start of the pandemic there were no vaccines and there was a significant concern about people’s health.

“To approach somebody and to cough repeatedly at them is a a very serious allegation. We were just about two weeks into the pandemic at that stage.”

Jailing Stewart, the judge told her: “You made deliberate attempts to cough over the victim and this would have been particularly concerning to the victim as she had just received a ‘shielding’ letter.”.

Bail was fixed for appeal in the sum of £500.

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