A Sligo woman has been jailed for 28 days for coughing in the face of a garda.
Rachel Conway appeared before Judge Kevin Kilrane at a special sitting of Carrick-on-Shannon District Court on Wednesday after she coughed directly into the face of an officer on patrol in Sligo at 3.15pm on Tuesday.
Conway, a mother-of-three from Rusheen Ard, Caltragh, Sligo, faced two counts, one of section 2 assault of Community Garda Martha Carter and one relating to her refusal to give her name and address.
The court heard how Garda Carter was on bike patrol when a report came in that a group of people were drinking at the new footbridge, Riverside in the town.
Garda Carter found three females and one male drinking in the area. She said Conway was “disruptive from the start”, asking the garda what the problem was. When Garda Carter approached the group Conway told her to “stay away 2m” and then started talking about Covid-19, the court heard.
When the garda asked for names and addresses, all in the group but Conway provided details. The rest of the group agreed to leave but Conway approached Garda Carter and coughed directly in her face, the court heard.
When Garda Carter said she intended to arrest Conway the defendant again coughed in her face and placed her hand upon the officer’s shoulder, the court heard.
Conway was arrested and brought to Ballymote Garda station where she later gave her name, address and apologised to Garda Carter.
In court on Wednesday the officer said Conway had been “in very close proximity” to her and “made no effort to cover her mouth or turn her head to either side when she coughed in my face”.
Leitrim Division Supt Kevin English said he would be “seeking the protection of the court in relation to the protection of front-line gardaí”.
Defending solicitor Laura Spellman said her client had a “significant amount of alcohol on board”. Ms Spellman added that Conway had apologised to Garda Carter twice and was once again offering to apologise.
“There is absolutely no excuse I can put forward for her behaviour. She accepts 100 per cent that her behaviour was absolutely horrendous. She’s extremely embarrassed,” said Ms Spellman.
Conway again said sorry to the officer: “I’m very sorry for what happened; I didn’t mean it.”
‘All she has been doing is drinking’
Ms Spellman said her client was a mother-of-three who was “having a very difficult time” and intended to make an appointment with her GP to get help as “all she has been doing is drinking” over the last few weeks. Ms Spellman asked that the judge “leave her client with her liberty”.
Supt English said he could not have a situation where members were threatened by spitting or, in this instance, coughing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The judge noted that coughing in the face of a garda was “nasty” in normal times. But “in the present context” he would “deal with it severely”.
He pointed out the garda was only doing her duty and enforcing Government recommendations about social distancing.
The judge said “a message must be sent out that” that gardaí and the public must be protected and that alcohol was not a mitigating but an aggravating factor “given the current advice of the authorities.”
He convicted and sentenced Conway to 28 days in prison. Recognisances were fixed in the event of an appeal.
In a statement after the case, Garda Represenative Association (GRA)said it belives the penalty was “entirely approriate. It send a “clear message” to anyone contemplating an “attack on a frontline worker at a time that such workers are giving so much of themselves to protect communities,” said Ray Wims, GRA spokesman for Sligo/Leitrim .
“Today we saw the criminal justice system working seamlessly and efficiently to deliver an effective deterrent,” he said