Woman jailed for nine month for spitting in key worker’s face

A woman has been jailed for nine months after spitting in the face of a key worker at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Belfast woman Pauline Burns, 56, pleaded guilty in Belfast Crown Court to one count of common assault on 4 April 2020.

The court heard that Ms Burns approached a woman she knew, who is a mother, key worker and carer for her father, and asked her for a hug. When she refused, Ms Burns started shouting at her and spitting in her face.

At the time, the victim was getting into her car to deliver food to her father, who was self-isolating due to the COVID-19 restrictions, which had then been in place for two weeks.

Judge David McFarland, Recorder of Belfast, commended the police and prosecution for their speed in processing the case and bringing it to the Crown Court.

He referred to two recent cases in England where defendants were convicted of spitting at police officers and key workers where sentences of six months and eight months were imposed. He said that at any time spitting into another person’s face is a serious matter, but with COVID-19 it must be met with a robust penalty.

“This will mean, in almost every circumstance, an immediate prison sentence,” he said. “There is a need for a strong deterrent message to be sent so that those who would in any way be tempted to act in this way will desist. It is also necessary to reassure the public, and in particular those working on the front line providing service and protection to others.”

The Recorder said that given the nature of this assault and aggravated by the circumstances and the defendant’s criminal record, the appropriate sentence after a contest would have been 15 months.

Taking account of the defendant’s plea of guilty and her co-operation in allow the case to be deal with expeditiously and without the need for a pre-sentence report, he reduced the sentence by 40 per cent and imposed a determinate custodial sentence of nine months.

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