A gran who accidentally squirted her next door neighbours with disinfectant out of fear she would contract COVID-19 has been convicted of assault

Countryside warden Jane Downall, 61, used the anti-bacterial spray from her local Aldi to clean her garden fence after Samantha Fisher and her daughter Ebony leaned over them to chat to another neighbour three doors down.

But as she unleashed the spray, droplets of the potentially corrosive liquid inadvertently hit the faces of Mrs Fisher and Ebony and both had to seek medical treatment in hospital for suspected burns.

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Police later arrested Downall after officers arrived at the scene in Heywood, Greater Manchester to find the victims had suffered redness to their faces. Both did not suffer lasting injuries.

Mrs Fisher's husband Clifton was also sprayed but dodged the chemical particles.

At Tameside Magistrates' court Downall - who was a contestant on the Nick Knowles BBC wildlife show Wildest Dreams - was convicted of common assault. She later appealed against the verdict but last week her plea was thrown out by a judge who conditionally discharged her for six months.

Samantha Fisher

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.

The incident occurred on April 5 last year just two weeks after the Government imposed lockdown restrictions.

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.

Samantha Fisher's daughter Ebony Taylor

“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.

''Samantha tried to wipe her face and was on the phone to the police. I was angry at Miss Downall and I said ‘what have you just done?’ but she said ‘two metres, get away from my fence’ and then she tried to spray me but I dodged it.

The houses at Edgerton Road, Heywood

''Ebony went upstairs to use the sink and Samantha was in the kitchen. My wife had a piece of kitchen roll in her hand and was trying to clean it but the call operator said to use water on it. Ebony was doing the same upstairs. They were both repeatedly washing their face and their eyes and they both had to go in an ambulance.''

In interview with police, Downall said: ‘I have been squirting disinfectant because they have been coughing over my fence. Sam was not just coughing, she was coughing in the garden and she was shouting and leaning over the fence and I was just trying to protect my parents.

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

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''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**king b***h, what are you doing? I said: 'you are not two metres away from me, get away. I am spraying the fence.' Samantha then shouts: 'look what she is doing.' and Ebony then said it had gone on her face. I did not use the spray to inflict any injuries, I was trying to inflict injury on the germs. It is not a harmful spray.''

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.

Jane Downall

“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.

''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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