A Belfast woman who drunkenly spat in the face of a key worker was jailed for nine months yesterday.
Pauline Burns was told that her actions on April 4 this year caused fear of infection not just to the woman she spat on - who works as a cleaner in a Belfast hospital - but also to the woman's family.
Described in Belfast Crown Court as someone with a history of alcoholism, Burns (56), from Donegall Street, admitted a charge of common assault as she appeared at the remote hearing via video-link with Hydebank.
Judge David McFarland said that while spitting into someone's face was a serious matter, anyone who did so during the Covid-19 pandemic could expect a "robust penalty".
This, the judge said, was to act as a deterrent to others and to protect those who "work on the front line providing service and protection to others".
In submissions made by prosecutor Simon Jenkins, it emerged the offence took place two weeks after restrictions were put in place.
At 6pm on Saturday, April 4, the mother-of-three had just left her home in west Belfast and was due to deliver food to her father who was self-isolating when she was approached in the street by a drunken Burns.
The two woman know each other, and after Burns asked the other woman for a hug, she refused due to social distancing rules.
She then asked Burns politely to keep her distance, but Burns verbally abused her and then repeatedly spat on her face and body.
As she was a designated key worker due to her job as a hospital cleaner, she was concerned about being infected with Covid-19 and immediately returned home and showered. She did not contract the virus as a result of the incident.
Burns was arrested at her hostel the next morning, and when interviewed she admitted she had been drunk the day before.
She also admitted that while she did know the woman, she could not remember speaking to her, asking her for a hug or spitting repeatedly on her.
It was noted that Burns had 201 previous convictions, which included assaults.
Also noted was her history of alcohol abuse.
Judge McFarland said he was giving Burns credit for asking to be sentenced so quickly, and sentenced her to nine months' custody.