16 Jun 2020

Man who deliberately sneezed at shoppers fined

5:22 pm on 16 June 2020

A Christchurch man who filmed himself coughing and sneezing at supermarket customers during the nation-wide lockdown has been fined $750.

Christchurch's Justice and Emergency Services Precinct

The man was sentenced at Christchurch District Court this morning. Photo: Supplied / Minister of Justice

Raymond Gary Coombs, had already pleaded guilty on 6 April, for the charge of offensive behaviour over the incident at Fresh Choice in Barrington.

It caused a public outcry at the time and led to the 38-year-old being labelled as an "idiot" by the Prime Minister.

Coombs appeared at the Christchurch District Court this afternoon and was also sentenced to 16 months in prison for two driving charges.

The coughing prank played out during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Coombs subsequently tested negative for coronavirus, but the police charged him with offensive behaviour, which carried a maximum penalty of a $1000 fine.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Raoul Neave said it was hard to imagine a more serious example of offensive behaviour.

"Your behavior was dangerous, selfish and stupid... and it's the kind of nuisance behaviour that has plagued your career," he said.

Coombs - who has since apologised for the incident - was fined $750 and ordered to pay $150 in court costs. The maximum penalty of $1000 was downgraded to $750 due to an early guilty plea.

It was driving offences which ended up costing Coombs his freedom, a charge of careless driving and driving with an excess blood alcohol limit of 239 micrograms of alcohol per 100 ML of blood.

Judge Neave said there were signs Coombs could be a changing man, however.

"There's some indication that you've reached a turning point and... reflected on the need to make some positive changes and to do something," he said.

"Only time will tell whether that's just convenient words or whether it's a genuine desire to address your issues."

Coombs' defence counsel Kathy Besire, said her client has been troubled with alcohol throughout his life.

She said Coombs' offending coincided with the anniversary of his mother's death.

"He has, as outlined in the psychological report, quite significant childhood trauma and he himself knows that he needs to abstain from alcohol," Besire said.

Judge Neave said Coombs would be allowed to serve his sentence at a residential rehab facility once when it became available.