Woman gets jail sentence at Ballymena Court after judge hits out at spit attacks on police during pandemic

A WOMAN has been given a three months jail term after a judge said: “If people think they can get away with spitting at police officers in the middle of a pandemic they have another thing coming”.

Zoe Howarth (37), of High Street in Ballymena, according to a defence lawyer, “wasn’t coping well with the lockdown” when she spat at PSNI officers.

She had been spoken to on May 16 this year in relation to an “argument” with a neighbour when she began “screaming” at police. She spat out and spittle landed on the bodies of two officers.

When arrested she continued to shout and scream on the way to Antrim Police Station and spat again, hitting officers.

She was removed from the police car to be restrained and continued to scream and shout abuse and she ignored multiple warnings to calm down.

The defendant, who had a previous record, was present in Ballymena Magistrates Court, sitting in Antrim, on Thursday and admitted charges of assaulting police in the execution of their duty and being disorderly at John Street in Ballymena.

She also admitted stealing beauty products and razors worth £235 in April this year from Boots in Ballymena’s Tower Centre.

A prosecutor said a member of staff found “empty packaging throughout the store” and CCTV then showed Howarth picking up an epilator, remove the security tag, and place it in her bag.

Howarth was followed around the store and lifted items which she took from their packaging and concealed in her bag.

After collecting a prescription the defendant left without offering payment.

The CCTV also showed the defendant stealing items the day before when she was getting a prescription.

Defence barrister Thomas McKeever said spitting on police would be “abhorrent in normal circumstances” but during a pandemic made it “very serious”.

He said the defendant had very little memory of the incident but when she was told of what happened she was “appalled”.

Regarding the thefts, Howarth had no money when her benefits had stopped and they were “crimes committed to finance herself at the time”.

The lawyer said the defendant has been off alcohol since May.

District Judge Nigel Broderick said: “I take a very dim view. In the middle of a global pandemic anybody who spits at police officers, and this has been widely canvassed in the media, can expect a custodial sentence not just because it dangerous but because there must be a deterrent.

“If people think they can get away with spitting at police officers in the middle of a pandemic they have another thing coming.

As well as a three months jail term the defendant was also put on Probation and ordered to pay £235 for the stolen items.

Bail in the sum of £500 was fixed for appeal.

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