'lost her cool' | 

Woman who removed face mask and coughed over passengers and crew on plane avoids jail

Sarah McGuire (41) was on a flight to Edinburgh to visit her two children who live with their aunt when she ‘lost her cool’ over the wearing of a mask

Sarah McGuire

Sarah McGuire

Sarah McGuire during the air rage incident

Paul HigginsBelfast Telegraph

A Derry woman who removed her face mask and coughed over passengers and crew on a plane has avoided being sent to prison.

Sarah McGuire (41) was handed a five-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, by District Judge Nigel Broderick at Antrim Magistrates’ Court sitting in Ballymena. She was also fined £200.

The judge warned McGuire she had “come very close” to going to jail.

Sarah McGuire

What saved her, he said, was that she had been put on probation two weeks ago for other public order offences by District Judge Barney McElholm.

Mr Broderick said that, instead of jailing her, “I’m going to leave something hanging over your head to act as an incentive” not to reoffend and to abide by the probation order.

On the day her trial was due to begin in March last year, McGuire, from Tyrconnell Street in Derry, entered guilty pleas to charges of common assault, behaving in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner towards a member of aircraft crew and refusing to obey the lawful command of an aircraft commander.

At an earlier hearing, she had admitted using disorderly behaviour at Belfast International Airport arising from the same incident.

The court heard that, on October 18, 2020, McGuire was on an easyJet flight to Edinburgh to visit her two children who live with their aunt when she “lost her cool” over the wearing of a face mask.

A prosecuting lawyer outlined how police were called to Belfast International Airport by ground staff after McGuire had been ejected from the flight after coughing over one of them.

Further enquiries “established that the defendant had been verbally abusive to the crew and other passengers on board”, the lawyer explained. He added that McGuire told them to “f*** off” and on her way off the plane, she removed her mask and “coughed over passengers on board, shouting ‘everybody dies’ as she left”.

Sarah McGuire during the air rage incident

Arrested inside the terminal building, McGuire “became violent, struggling with police” and even when she was put to the floor and handcuffed, she “continued to shout and swear at police”.

During interviews, she refused to answer most questions but did tell officers that while she had a face mask, “she had anxiety and that affected her wearing a mask on board”.

Lodging a plea in mitigation, defence counsel Sean Doherty said it was not without significance that McGuire had been free of offending until she suffered the “unimaginable loss” of her six-year-old who was tragically killed in a road traffic accident. As a result, she turned to alcohol and her two older children had gone to live with their aunt in Edinburgh.

He urged Mr Broderick “to impose a sentence that doesn’t interfere” with her recent and ongoing probation order.

The judge told McGuire that while he “recognised that you have had difficulties in your life, that’s not an excuse for what you did”.

He added: “These are serious matters, not least because it occurred during the pandemic and at the time in October 2020, there were no vaccinations available for anyone for Covid-19 so to take your mask off in the confined space of an aircraft and cough over people was wholly inappropriate.”

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