Covid 19 coronavirus: Finger-licker fined for lockdown breach

A Southland man has been fined after he breached the Covid-19 lockdown and licked his fingers and wiped them down at his workplace reception window.

Michael James Murdoch (58) was found guilty last year following a judge alone trial on a charge of failing to comply with a medical officer of health requirement to stay at home unless it was for essential personal movement proven.

The man had an application for discharge without conviction denied by Judge Russell Walker, who ordered him to pay a fine of $1500 plus $130 court costs.

At the time of the incident, in April, the man was a dog control officer at Invercargill City Council’s animal care facility.

He and his partner were tested positive for Covid-19 and, due to the result, he was required to undertake a quarantine for 28 days.

His employer placed restrictions on his going to or entering any work premises without providing proof of clearance and obtaining prior approval.

On April 16, he and his partner arrived at the facility and Murdoch asked to be let inside.

A staff member declined his entry and they spoke for a bit before Murdoch licked his fingers and wiped them down the face of the reception window.

He also made a display of rubbing his hands across the handle of the entrance door.

During the hearing last year it was reportedhe had been called by the Southern District Health Board to say he was cleared of Covid-19 on that day.

On April 17, he made arrangements with his supervisor to return to work in the following week, but then his partner became unwell again and he was told to not return to work until she had been cleared of the virus.

On April 22, Murdoch and his partner returned to the animal care facility and again he asked to be let into the building.

After being refused entry, he did the same thing – breathed on and licked his fingers and wiped them on the same window.

However, this time, he also did it on his colleague’s car door handles.

Invercargill City Council’s dog controller officer Jo Anne Michelle Cockcroft read a victim impact statement and said she wasn’t angry with Murdoch at the time, but was disappointed that he put everyone in this position.

“I’m certain he did what he did without malice and I don’t think he was even aware at the time how his actions could potentially affect . . . the facility.”

She had elderly parents and she had a “real fear” she could have contracted the virus and put her parents and other people in danger as he was an essential worker.

Cockcroft said the incident affected her mental health.

Police prosecutor Marcus McMahon said Murdoch’s actions were against everything the country was trying to do to combat Covid-19.

Defence lawyer Olivia Taylor said her associate John Frasier had filed an application for discharge without conviction for Murdoch because a conviction would make it difficult for him to obtain any employment in the country.

A letter from his doctor stated he suffered mental and health issues following the incident.

Judge Walker acknowledged Murdoch had shown remorse and shame from his action.

However, he was not satisfied the consequences would be “out of proportion” for the offending and denied the application.

Judge Walker convicted Murdoch and described his movements on both occasions as “an astonishing lapse of judgment”, but as he had already lost his job and suffered health issues, he would only apply a fine.

“Your behaviour was juvenile,” he told Murdoch.

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