17th Jan, 2021

Young Wellesbourne man jailed for 'abhorrent' sneezing act in police car

A MAN who deliberately sneezed and spluttered in the back of a police car has been jailed.

Thomas Coates, 21, of Hotchkiss Close, Wellesbourne, pleaded guilty to two charges of common assault on emergency workers, and was jailed for five months.

The police were called to Coates’s home, where he lives with his parents, in June following a ‘domestic incident.’

Concerned he was drunk, officers asked the defendant to leave the house before arresting him on suspicion of causing criminal damage.

Coates began shouting at his parents, so he was put in the back of the police car.

His colleague PC Griffiths was in the back of the car with Coates who said he hoped the car would crash into a tree.

He leant forward and asked PC Hope, who was driving,: “What’s your take on coronavirus? If I start coughing, will you stop the car and let me out?”

Despite being warned he could be charged with assaulting an emergency worker, he immediately sneezed twice.

He was arrested for common assault on them and claimed it had been a genuine sneeze because he was suffering from hay fever.

But Judge Barry Berlin said the Crown did not accept that.

In a statement, PC Hope called it ‘an abhorrent act’, adding he had two children and a wife at home.

And PC Griffiths remarked: “I feel what Coates did in the car was disgusting and unnecessary. I believe Coates wanted to intimidate me and cause me fear.”

Richard Baker, defending, said: “Mr Coates had been drinking on a summer’s day and returned home. What led up to this was a bout of ill health and mental health problems.

“He was furloughed and was at home and was finding it difficult. He was threatening to drive his car into an object to take his own life.

“That’s what caused his father to call the police. He didn’t want his son arrested, but to get some help for his son.”

He added the defendant wanted to apologise for ‘an out-of-character situation’.

Jailing Coates, Judge Berlin told him: “The officers arrested you. While transporting you, you decided to talk about coronavirus and asked if you would be released if you had it.

“But you took it further than that. You feigned exaggerated coughing and sneezing.

“You were warned about this. I am afraid I have no toleration for anyone who makes a comment like this to police officers or abuses them in this way.

“We have seen a lot of it during the current outbreak of covid-19. It is used as an excuse to behave like a thug. It is not going to be tolerated. Assault on an emergency worker in this sort of situation in this climate must be taken seriously by the court.

“The two officers were put in a potentially dangerous situation for themselves and for their families by this appalling behaviour. It is too serious to suspend the sentence.”

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