A footballer who drunkenly spat in a police officer's face has become the first person in Northern Ireland to be sentenced for breaching coronavirus regulations.
Former Northern Ireland under-21 star Ben Kennedy was given a five-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and was fined £100 after a hearing at Lisburn Magistrates Court was told he was going through a mental health crisis at the time of the offence.
The 23-year-old lashed out on Longstone Street in the city on April 30, at the height of lockdown, after officers who did not believe he had reason to be out in public repeatedly told him to go home.
They eventually tired of his behaviour and moved to arrest him, but Kennedy "struggled with police and then spat in the face of an officer".
When he was interviewed after sobering up, he said he could not remember what had happened, but he apologised for his actions.
Five days after the incident, Kennedy's mother called the police after becoming worried about his behaviour.
When officers arrived at his home, he made threats to damage a woman's property and refused to answer questions about what had happened.
Defence solicitor Peter Prenter said his client bitterly regretted his actions.
"(He apologised) to police in the cold light of day and is very repentant for both sets of offences, which occurred at a time of a considerable crisis," he said.
Mr Prenter explained that in the aftermath of the episodes, Kennedy had sought help from his GP and mental health services and was still receiving counselling.
The solicitor told the court he had spoken to the officers involved in the spitting incident.
"(They were) very helpful and sympathetic to him... they know that this man was in crisis," he said
"That's not to say that it couldn't have had very adverse effects on the health of the officer (who was spat on)."
He also stressed that his client, who admitted spitting on the police officer and making threats to damage property, had "never come to police attention before or since" either episode.
Mr Prenter added that Kennedy, who was recently released from his playing contract at Stevenage in England and has been linked to an Irish League return, had "various offers (from teams) both here and back in England, but he can't do anything until the case is resolved".
District Judge Rosie Watters said that the offences crossed the custody threshold and warned Kennedy that the criminal justice system had taken a "dim view of people who intentionally put other people in fear because of the coronavirus or try to infect them". She added, however, that having read the reports and heard Mr Prenter's pleas, she had decided against imposing an immediate prison sentence but would "leave something hanging over (Kennedy's) head".
The judge warned the defendant that if he committed any further offences in the next two years, "you will serve this sentence in addition to any other sentence imposed".
Kennedy, who joined Stevenage on a two-year youth scholarship in the summer of 2013 and broke into the first-team during the 2014-15 season, recently wrote on his Twitter page he had "signed (for the club as a 15-year-old boy (and was) leaving as 23-year-old man".
"It's been a roller coaster seven years and I would like to thank everyone at the club, the staff, players and most importantly the fans for all the memories," he added.
"I pray the club get to stay up, but I'm on to a new chapter."
The player scored 31 goals in 167 appearances for Stevenage and has represented Northern Ireland at under-17, under-19 and under-21 levels.