Coronavirus: Boy, 14, charged with assault for ‘coughing on pensioner’ in town centre

Teenager charged amid spate of arrests over coronavirus lockdown rules

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 30 March 2020 17:38 BST
Cressida Dick: Coronavirus pandemic poses 'huge challenge' for police

A 14-year-old boy is among people charged with coronavirus-related offences following a spate of arrests.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, allegedly coughed and spat on a pensioner while shouting about the virus.

Greater Manchester Police said officers were called to Ashton-under-Lyme town centre on the evening of 17 March “to a report that earlier that evening a boy had been coughing and shouting ‘coronavirus’ at a 66-year-old woman”.

Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that such incidents would be treated as assault and the boy has now been charged.

Numerous arrests for deliberate coughing have been reported across Britain, including several against emergency workers.

A man was Tasered in London after allegedly “coughing saliva” over firearms officers.

The Metropolitan Police said the unit were driving through Harringey on Saturday afternoon when a 24-year-old man “began to shout and make rude gestures towards them”.

When the firearms officers stopped to talk to him, they said he “shouted that he had coronavirus before deliberately coughing saliva all over them”.

A spokesperson said he then began to physically attack the officers, before being Tasered and arrested on suspicion of public order offences and assault on an emergency worker.

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Police in Brighton arrested a 65-year-old man around an hour later after he allegedly spat at them and used “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”.

An officer in Manchester was forced to go into isolation as a precaution after being coughed on by a man claiming to have coronavirus on Thursday.

Mateusz Rejewski, 33, had allegedly refused to leave a gathering in Piccadilly Gardens and has been charged with assaulting an emergency worker and breaching a dispersal notice.

Another man appeared in court on Monday accused of deliberately coughing in the face of a paramedic and telling him: “Ha, ha, you’ve got it now.”

Jonathan Brunsdon, 43, denied assaulting an emergency worker at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court and was remanded in custody ahead of a trial.

Last week, the CPS announced that deliberately coughing on emergency workers could be punished by up to two years in prison.

Max Hill QC, the director of public prosecutions, said: “This is a crime and needs to stop. The CPS stands behind emergency and essential workers and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody who threatens them as they go about their vital duties.”

Assaults specifically against emergency workers are punishable by up to two years in prison, while common assault has a maximum sentence of six months.

Police have also been given the power to arrest people or fine them up to £960 for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules.

They force the closure of non-essential businesses, ban public gatherings of more than two people and say the public can only leave their homes for specified “reasonable excuses” like essential shopping and exercise.

Senior officers said arrests would be a last resort, with officers first attempting to encourage people to follow the new law and go home – and using fines – but numerous incidents were reported over the weekend.

A man was charged with contravening social distancing measures after causing panic outside a supermarket in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester.

Police said he was “unnecessarily out of his home and approaching members of the public in a queue outside Tesco” on Saturday.

“Officers advised the man about his conduct but he continued to approach people contrary to social distancing rules and government guidelines on the restriction of movement during the emergency period,” a spokesperson added.

Steven Mackie, 53, has been charged with one count of failing to maintain public health and causing public disorder and nuisance contrary to the Health Protection Regulations 2020.

He was due to appear at Tameside Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

An officer in Leeds said he had arrested a 13-year-old boy under the new coronavirus powers, but his Twitter post was deleted and West Yorkshire Police has not confirmed the incident.

On Sunday, police in Warrington said they had summoned six people to court overnight for coronavirus-related offences, including suspects who had been caught “out for a drive due to boredom”, returning from parties and “going to the shops for non-essential items”.

At a press conference on Friday, senior officers said police forces had been inundated with calls from members of the public reporting their neighbours for allegedly violating the lockdown and checking the regulations.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said officers would “respond in a proportionate way” as they deal with staff absences caused by coronavirus.

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