A man who randomly hit a baby in a supermarket in England has been convicted of assault by beating.
David Hardy, 64, claimed he was "messing about" and thought he was striking a doll when he tapped five-day-old Elsie Temple with "a loose fist" to playfully "wind up" the baby’s seven-year-old sister.
But District Judge Sam Goozee, sitting at Manchester Magistrates’ Court, dismissed his claim that he thought he had punched a doll as "implausible" and found him guilty.
The incident took place at Tesco supermarket in Baguley, Wythenshawe, on September 5, when Amy Duckers took out Elsie for the first time in public.
The baby was strapped into a car seat and was placed in a small shopping trolley with Ms Duckers’s other daughter, Libby, on the opposite side.
Ms Duckers told the court she bumped into her next-door neighbour, who went over to the baby. The neighbour, who worked at Tesco, then called over her colleague Elaine Hardy, to look at the "beautiful baby".
She said Hardy, husband of the Tesco worker, approached and, without warning, punched Elsie in the face and head.
Wiping away tears in court, and screened from Hardy, she said: "He didn’t even look in my pram. It was actually the first thing that happened ... It was really bizarre how he approached without saying a word."
She confronted him and she said he denied he had struck her.
Ms Duckers continued: "It was only when he saw he had marked her that he admitted he had done it but then he said he though it was a doll."
Elsie woke up crying after being punched, she said, and when her partner lifted up her pink woollen hat, there was a red mark "the size of an egg".
The child was monitored in hospital overnight before she was released, the court heard. She said had been left "absolutely distraught" by the incident.
She told the court she did not recall Hardy saying anything to her eldest daughter before the strike.
Giving evidence, Hardy, of Longfield Road, Baguley, said he first assumed it was a doll when his wife’s work colleague called them over in "a childish voice" to look at the baby.
He said the seven-year-old girl "looked bored" and he asked her: "Is that your baby?"
He said: "She didn’t reply and I said ’I’m going to wake your baby up’.
"I thought it was a doll. I thought it was the little girl’s doll. I realise now it was not, but at the time..."
He added: "I was just messing around to lighten the mood."
He conceded it was "wholly inappropriate" and in hindsight there was nothing playful about his actions.
Hardy was fined £900 for the assault by beating and ordered to pay Ms Duckers £100 compensation and £500 towards prosecution costs.
The judge told him: "Elsie was a vulnerable five-day-old baby. The circumstances in which you committed this assault are highly exceptional. It was spontaneous, it lacked any pre-meditation and I believe that it was completely out of character.
"The impact upon this on Elsie’s mother was clearly evident, very distressing for it to happen to her in the middle of a supermarket."
Judge Goozee also remarked that Hardy’s actions amounted to "strange and concerning behaviour" which was "impossible to explain".
He said he had considered a community order but was satisfied the matter could be dealt with by way of fine.
Before he left the dock, Hardy thanked the judge and said: "I’m very sorry, sir."
Outside the courtroom, Ms Duckers’s angry family clashed with relatives of the defendant before security had to be called to split them.
Later outside court, Ms Duckers’s father, John, said: "He deserves to go to prison. He should have held his hands up.
"£900 for punching a five-day-old baby? He (the judge) might as well have let him off with nothing. Why did they bother bringing him to court?"
The judge concluded a degree of force must have been used in the blow to leave a red mark and that at the point the defendant struck out he did so intentionally and knew Elsie was not a doll.
But he accepted it was an "isolated incident".
Hardy, a cash manager at Salford timber merchants G E Robinson, had earlier told the court he was "extremely upset" when "it all fell into place what I had done".
He said: "I was in a daze. I can remember the mother crying, quite rightly so. I think I would have been upset too. I was like in a state of disbelief."
Asked by his solicitor, Gary Woodhall, how he felt, he said: "Devastated. I feel wracked with guilt. I still can’t believe I did it."
Mr Woodhall asked: "What did you think you were doing?"
Hardy - who did not know Ms Duckers or her family - said: "I was just trying ...she (the girl) looked bored and I made this stupid instant decision. I know it was wrong but it just kind of happened."
He explained he thought the older girl on the trolley "looked bored" and he wanted to "lighten the mood".
Asked if he had any mental health problems, Hardy replied: "No, not that I am aware of."
Hardy told prosecutor Nicholas Turner that it was "ridiculous" that he had mistaken the baby for a doll but he maintained that is what he honestly believed.
"I was just pissing around, sorry messing around," he said.
"The only excuse I can make is that I made a terrible mistake. I know it is ridiculous but that is what happened."
Hardy said he was not an expert but he said the red mark on the baby’s head could have been caused by the hat she was wearing.
The court heard that the mark was not visible by the time that police officers attended the scene and that no lasting injury was caused.
Hardy denied punching the baby and said he "tapped it on the head" with his fingers curled up in a loose fist.
In a statement, Paul Kavanagh, a director at G E Robinson, said Hardy was "hard-working and trustworthy" and was an "integral part of the team".
The incident had had a "profound effect" on Hardy but the firm had coaxed him back to work and he was concerned about the consequences of any conviction for him, he added.
Mr Woodhall told the judge that his client’s case was that it was "a terrible accident" in that he believed he was hitting an inanimate object in "a misplaced attempt" to playfully "wind up" the elder child standing at the end of the trolley.
He added he was a man of effective good character despite a conviction 35 years ago for theft of milk when he said he was helping a milkman whose business was "dying on its legs".