Patient on Royal Stoke’s coronavirus ward deliberately coughed in nurse’s face – now she’s in jail


A hospital patient who was displaying the signs of coronavirus has been jailed after she deliberately coughed at a nurse.

Penelope Russell was taken to the Royal Stoke University Hospital as she was suffering with a bad cough and breathing problems on March 31.

The 51-year-old was placed in an area set up for patients displaying Covid-19 symptoms.

She was given a mask and put in a side room where swabs were taken to test for the killer disease.

But Russell left the room and in the corridor she had her mask down when she deliberately coughed in the direction of a nurse who was telling her to get back in the room.

The defendant, of Beaconsfield Drive, Blurton, denied assaulting an emergency worker in the execution of her duty but was found guilty after a trial at North Staffordshire Justice Centre.

The conviction placed her in breach of a 14-week suspended jail sentence and she was jailed for a total of 40 weeks.

Penelope Russell

Prosecutor Lynne Warrington said the defendant was taken to the Royal Stoke on March 31.

Miss Warrington said: “She was placed in A Bay, an area set up to deal with the coronavirus situation.

“She arrived at midday. She was given a mask, had an X-Ray and, as she was displaying symptoms of coronavirus, she had tests.”

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The court heard Russell’s mask was not covering her mouth when she coughed at a nurse.

Miss Warrington added: “She continued to shout and swear and as she was doing so spit came from her mouth towards the nurse. It did not hit her.

“The police were contacted. She was arrested.”

The nurse told the court the defendant was displaying signs of Covid-19.

She said: “She had a continuous cough and we moved her in a side room, to protect us and all the patients. We provided a mask.

“The defendant was a bit on the aggressive side and was demanding to know how long she would have to wait to see the doctors. It was just the way she spoke. She demanded a sandwich and said she had been there hours and was hungry. I explained she would have to wait.

“In a raised voice she said, ‘I want a ******* sandwich and I want it now. I am hungry’.

“The mask was not covering her face. She was standing at the door. I asked her to go back in. She said, ‘I do not want to go back in. I have not got this disease, I have got pleurisy’.

“She started coughing. I asked her to go back in the room. She turned straight at me. I was only three feet away and she coughed directly at me.

“She said, ‘I do not know what you are bothered about anyway because you are wearing a mask’.

“I was scared. We are faced with this Covid every day. We know what it can do.

“At that point I had to walk off as I did not feel safe.”

The victim had to have her eyes irrigated and is still upset by the incident.

Royal Stoke University Hospital

A second nurse told the court: “She was very naive about how serious Covid is. She did not really think it was a serious illness. I explained it was vital to keep the face mask on to protect us and other patients. She kept trying to move her mask.”

She later heard Russell shouting at her colleague. The witness said: “She was getting quite aggressive. She wanted a sandwich and she wanted it now. I heard my colleague say, ‘You are spitting in my face’, to which the defendant said, ‘I do not know what your problem is, you have got a mask on’. I got in touch with security to come down.”

Russell told the court she had a ‘terrible’ cough on March 31 and phoned 999 after her key worker believed it could be pneumonia.

She said: “I am not having it that I spat or coughed at a nurse because I am not that type of person. I have gone not guilty because I am not guilty of what I am charged with.

“It is terrible. I know the NHS are good. There is no way I would cough or spit directly in her face.

“The mask kept coming down. I was just agitated. I just wanted to go home because I was ill.”

Her solicitor, Scott Ashdown, said: “There is some suggestion there was some shouting to such an extent there was some spitting.”

She said: “I think people take me wrong because I am loud. I have been locked up for something that I have not even done. I do not understand assaults on people who are saving people’s lives day in day out.”

Under cross examination from Miss Warrington, Russell said: “I did not mean to upset anybody. I am not an aggressive person. I am just loud and people take me the wrong way.”

District Judge Timothy Boswell said the evidence from the two nurses was clear and found Russell guilty of the assault.

He said: “I am sure Russell was angry and aggressive. She deliberately put herself close to her victim. I cannot be sure she deliberately pulled it (the mask) down. I am sure she deliberately did not have it (her mouth) covered and was deliberately shouting and coughing, in effect, in her face.

“The coughing may have been involuntary coughing but by putting herself in a position with the mask down, so close to the nurse, she was deliberately coughing in her face.”





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