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Suspended sentence for man who coughed at policeman after claiming to have Covid symptoms

The deputy district judge described his actions as 'a very foolish, stupid and immature thing to do'

Covid police

A Newry man who coughed at a police officer after claiming to have Covid symptoms has been handed a suspended prison sentence.

The 44-year-old’s barrister told court: “From the bodyworn footage, it is quite a fake cough. However, this was during the height of the pandemic and you can see where the police officer was coming from.”

Thomas Sweeney, of Knockdarragh, pleaded guilty to one count of assault on police at the city’s Magistrates’ Court.

Prosecution outlined that on April 4, last year, police arrested the defendant in relation to an unrelated matter at an address in Newry.

Due to the pandemic, police asked Sweeney if he was suffering from any of the known symptoms of Covid-19, to which he replied that he was suffering from all of the symptoms.

Whilst an officer was placing a seatbelt on the defendant, he then proceeded to cough on them persistently and was subsequently arrested for the offence before the court.

Prosecution highlighted that it was not believed that Sweeney had contracted the virus or intended to infect the officer but that he had carried out the act to “pester” and “frighten” the officer.

Defence barrister David McKeown stated that his client had been “riled” by his arrest by police and had lied about having the symptoms of Covid-19.

He said: “From the bodyworn footage, it is quite a fake cough. However, this was during the height of the pandemic and you can see where the police officer was coming from.”

Deputy District Judge Anne Marshall stated: “Mr Sweeney, for somebody that by my estimation is 44, this was a very foolish, stupid and immature thing to do.

“This was back in April, a number of weeks into the first wave of the pandemic, when there was a greater deal of public fear.”

She continued: “This matter is taken very seriously. Although you did clear it up very quickly during interview I do believe this has crossed the custody threshold.”

Sweeney was sentenced to one month in prison suspended for a period of 12 months.

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