Page last updated at 17:51 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Woman hit boy with church papers

Alma Harding
Alma Harding said her conviction was a "black day in the community"

A 63-year-old woman has been convicted of assault after using rolled up church papers to hit a teenager she suspected of damaging a village sign.

Alma Harding, a member of the church choir and Women's Institute at Kenton in Devon, was found guilty and given an absolute discharge.

Newton Abbot magistrates in Devon heard she had looked after the local area and was upset by the boy's alleged actions.

Her barrister condemned the charge as giving troublemakers a free hand.

Harding said: "It is a black day in the community when the police find it fit to persecute a little old lady for defending herself and her property as well as public and church property from the vandalism of youths in the village, by hitting one with a few pieces of rolled up paper."

Plants strewn

The court heard that Harding had spent many hours of her time and her own money sprucing up her village with flowers and hanging baskets.

But the village church and centre, called The Triangle, which houses the war memorial and Saxon Cross, had been vandalised by youngsters.

In April 2008, Harding was returning from a parochial church council meeting when she said she saw three teenage boys using a parish notice board for target practice with a football.

The message sent out to young people in our society is that you are able to commit such actions freely
Barrister James Taghdissian
Just four days earlier the hanging baskets and bulbs she had planted in a trough had been strewn over a path.

She told the court she remonstrated with the boys and after being sworn at she lashed out with the papers, catching one of the boys on his right cheek.

The boy, now 14, agreed they had laughed at her and she may have been intimidated by them, but denied calling her a name.

Harding told the court the boys came towards her and she was concerned and upset and had lashed out to get away and as a warning.

Her action went beyond what was necessary
Crown Prosecution Service

Her barrister James Taghdissian told the court: "The message sent out to young people in our society is that you are able to commit such actions freely knowing that the moment they complain to the police it will be taken seriously and anyone trying to do anything about it will end up in the dock.

"What on earth is going on, why are the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) wasting public time and money proceeding in this case?"

The CPS said in a statement: "While Mrs Harding may have felt justified in her action against the teenager, her action went beyond what was necessary.

"She was offered a caution, which she refused and we decided that the case should go to court where Mrs Harding pleaded not guilty, although she accepted she had struck the teenager.

"If people have any evidence that someone has committed an offence then they should report it to the appropriate authorities.

"People cannot take the law into their hands and may well face serious consequences if they do so."

The magistrates ruled that Harding was "angry and frustrated" when she struck out and ruled she did not have to pay the youth any compensation or court prosecution costs.

However, her own legal bill has exceeded 2,000.



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