A woman who coughed at emergency workers left them fearing they would pass on coronavirus to their families.
Now Nicola Tilstone has been jailed after being charged with assaulting police and paramedics by deliberately coughing six times.
The 37-year-old had been spotted banging into cars and wandering in the road. Tilstone appeared to be intoxicated or in a ‘psychotic’ state.
Prosecutor Neil Ahuja said the officers detained her for her own safety and put her in the cage of a police van while they awaited an ambulance.
“That caused her some distress,” he added. “She appeared to be displaying extremely erratic and irrational behaviour.
“When in the ambulance, she was restrained by straps on a stretcher because of the manner of her behaviour.
“Her temperature was taken. It was clearly at a level that caused concern. She could have been displaying symptoms of Covid-19.”
Tilstone then began coughing and was told in ‘robust terms’ by a police officer to stop doing it. They tried to get a mask on her, but she refused.
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The ambulance then arrived at hospital and Tilstone was taken into the ‘red zone’, where she continued to cough.
She was heard to say: “I coughed at you to make a point.” Eventually, a spit guard was placed on her.
It was not revealed in court whether Tilstone was tested for coronavirus following the incident. But at no point had she made any reference to Covid-19 when she coughed.
She went on to plead guilty to four counts of assaulting an emergency worker. The victims included three police constables and a paramedic.
In a victim impact statement, one of the officers said they felt ‘disgusted, but mainly concerned’. They feared they may have been exposed to coronavirus and might put their family at risk.
Another officer described feeling ‘violated’.
Tilstone, of no fixed address, had been staying at the Crown Hotel, in Longton, due to the pandemic. The court was told police had visited the hotel earlier that day and happened to see the defendant, who appeared to be acting normally.
She claimed she was later given a soft drink by another resident and suspected it may have been spiked.
Jason Holt, mitigating, said: “She appears, from a lay person’s perspective, to be in some form of psychosis. She is clearly distressed throughout the journey to hospital.”
He claimed Tilstone had been handcuffed and put in the back of the police van ‘without a proper explanation’. But Mr Holt said she was ‘thoroughly ashamed’ to be before the court.
Tilstone, whose actions were captured on police bodycams, has now been sentenced to 27 weeks in prison.
Judge David Fletcher said it must have been worrying for all four victims, who were just doing their jobs.
He told the defendant: “You can see when you look at the footage just how much effort, work time and resources were taken up that night in dealing with you – an extremely difficult person.”