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Grandmother, 61, who sprayed next door neighbours with disinfectant is convicted of assault

A grandmother who squirted her next door neighbours with disinfectant and told them ‘two metres, get away from my fence’ during the first lockdown has failed in her bid to overturn a conviction for assault. 

Countryside warden Jane Downall, 61, used the anti-bacterial spray to clean the wooden pallets in her fence after Samantha Fisher and her daughter Ebony leaned over them to chat to another neighbour three doors down in Heywood, Greater Manchester.

But as she unleashed the spray on April 5 last year, just two weeks after the Government imposed lockdown restrictions, droplets of the potentially corrosive liquid hit the faces of Mrs Fisher and Ebony – and both had to seek medical treatment in hospital for suspected burns. 

Mrs Fisher’s husband, construction worker Clifton Fisher, said that he had asked Downall ‘what have you just done?’ and she replied ‘two metres, get away from my fence’ before trying to spray him. 

Police arrested Downall after officers arrived at the scene to find the victims with redness on their faces, but neither suffered lasting injuries. In interview with officers, Downall said her neighbours had been coughing over her fence and she was ‘just trying to protect’ her parents.

‘Sam was doing these really loud exaggerated coughs in the garden and her husband was there, she was hysterically laughing and coughing,’ she added. ‘She popped her head up over the fence and into my side and was talking across me about hair dye.’

Downall was convicted of common assault at Tameside Magistrates Court in August.

She appealed against the verdict, but her plea was thrown out by a judge who conditionally discharged her for six months on October 21. 

Countryside warden Jane Downall (pictured), 61, used the anti-bacterial spray to clean the wooden pallets

Pictured: Samantha Fisher with daugher Ebony Taylor. The incident occurred on April 5 last year just two weeks after the Government imposed lockdown restrictions

Pictured: Samantha Fisher with daugher Ebony Taylor. The incident occurred on April 5 last year just two weeks after the Government imposed lockdown restrictions

Pictured are the houses in Heywood. Police arrested Downall after officers arrived at the scene to find the victims with redness on their faces, but neither suffered lasting injuries

Pictured are the houses in Heywood. Police arrested Downall after officers arrived at the scene to find the victims with redness on their faces, but neither suffered lasting injuries

The court heard Downall, who worked at Daisy Nook country park near Oldham, had been living next door to the Fishers since 2013 but the neighbours had repeatedly made complaints about each other after Mr Fisher erected the fence in 2018 to separate their respective gardens.

Construction worker Mr Fisher told the hearing: ‘We were having a family BBQ, it was just me, my wife and Ebony. My wife was speaking to another neighbour who had had messaged her earlier and was speaking to her three doors down over the fence.

‘Miss Downall was speaking to another neighbour on the opposite side to me and I remember seeing her go inside her house then come straight back with a spray bottle in her right hand.

‘She started saying ”get away from my fence, get away from my fence” then walks towards me and came quite close and then sprayed the liquid. 

‘Ebony and Samantha were stood on a step with their heads above the fence and Miss Downall was directly facing them. She sprayed several times and Samantha and Ebony came down and went inside.’

He added that Ebony and Mrs Fisher were both repeatedly washing their face and eyes and they both had to go in an ambulance. 

Jane Downall, pictured outside court, used the anti-bacterial spray to clean the wooden pallets after Samantha Fisher and her daughter Ebony leaned over them to chat to another neighbour three doors down in Heywood, Greater Manchester

A spray similar to the one used by Downall

Jane Downall, pictured left outside court, used the anti-bacterial spray to clean the wooden pallets after Samantha Fisher and her daughter Ebony leaned over them to chat to another neighbour three doors down in Heywood, Greater Manchester. Right: A spray similar to the one used by Downall

Pictured is Samantha Fisher with husband Clifton. Clifton Fisher said that he had asked Downall 'what have you just done?' and she replied 'two metres, get away from my fence' before trying to spray him

Pictured is Samantha Fisher with husband Clifton. Clifton Fisher said that he had asked Downall ‘what have you just done?’ and she replied ‘two metres, get away from my fence’ before trying to spray him

Downall had told police: ‘I said if you want to talk to the other neighbour go and talk to them at the front of the house and there was then some argy-bargy.

‘I said I am spraying the fence now and it was a natural antibacterial disinfectant spray. I said can you get down as I was really worried about contacting anything from them. Samantha and Ebony said what are you doing and I just said I was spraying the wall.

‘Cliff then said ”you stupid f***ing bitch, what are you doing?” I said: ”You are not two metres away from me, get away. I am spraying the fence.” ‘

She said she was not trying to ‘inflict any injuries’, except to germs.  

In court Downall said: ‘I was frightened of COVID and conscious of the two metre rule. I was speaking to another neighbour Cynthia and the Fishers were speaking across our two gardens. They were shouting and there was spit and saliva coming out of their mouth.

‘It was at the start of the Covid and we were in lockdown. I was safeguarding Cynthia and my Mum and Dad. I was very conscious that the virus could have been airborne, because at the time, no one was sure how you caught COVID. I didn’t want to catch anything. I was very cautious.

‘They had been making jokes about the pandemic and there had been exaggerating coughing. I was just conscious about the germs. I went over to ask to get down from the fence but they said it was not my fence. I said I was going to get the stuff to clean the fence. It is a mist spray which I got from Aldi.

‘I started spraying where I thought the droplets would be and that is when they started shouting and Sam shouted that I had assaulted her and that the neighbours were witnesses. I didn’t intend to spray them with the spray and I thought they were being ridiculous.

In court Downall said: 'I was frightened of COVID and conscious of the two metre rule'

In court Downall said: ‘I was frightened of COVID and conscious of the two metre rule’ 

‘Four police cars turned up and I was distressed. I couldn’t believe what was going on. When the police came into my house, I was backing off because of the two metre social distancing requirements. It is an important thing to me. 

‘There is a history of animosity between us and I feel terrorised by these people. I have been advised not to aggravate them but I was concerned about the germs.’

In rejecting Downall’s appeal, Judge Angela Nield sitting with two magistrates said: ‘At the time the country had been in lockdown for no more than three weeks and the pandemic was in its infancy and it was still subject to much speculation as to the manner in which individuals could be infected.

‘This incident was also prior to when masks were recommended and regulations were to keep a two metre rule. The appellant said she was very keen to observe these COVID regulations and did not want to become infected herself. But there is a history of acrimony, complaint and counter complaints. Miss Downall has lived at her address for some 20 years whereas the complainants have lived at their address for some eight years.

‘We do not find the appellant made a deliberate action to harm the complainants but her actions were reckless. Given the history of antagonism, it made her reckless in her actions resulting in the assault. But it was a momentary event and we regard events on the day in question as being specific to her heightened agitation of the pandemic and the situation she perceived herself to be in.

‘We are conscious of this becoming part of a protracted saga which does not help anyone. This was a reckless not an intentional assault.’

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