A pensioner who hit a teenager with the rolled up minutes of a church meeting has been found guilty of assault.

Alma Harding, 63, has criticised her conviction as "a black day for the community".

She claims she thought the boy, who was with two friends, was about to vandalise church property so the retired postmistress approached them, striking the boy on the cheek when he swore at her.

He and his mother later contacted the police and Mrs Harding was offered a caution which she rejected and instead took the matter to Newton Abbot Magistrates Court.

After a two-day trial magistrates rejected the claim and sentenced her to an absolute discharge, meaning she would not be punished but does now have a criminal record and will have to pay 2,270 in legal fees.

They awarded no compensation to the victim because there was "no distress or injury".

Mrs Harding said: "It is a black day in the community when the police find it fit to prosecute a little old lady for defending herself and her property as well as public and church property."

Her solicitor James Taghdissian said she had received messages of support from all over the country.

He claimed the case was a "waste of money" and had sent a message to young people that "they can conduct themselves in this way knowing that anyone who takes a stand will end up in the dock".

Superintendent Richard Baker said: "The bottom line is Mrs Harding went to court and has now been convicted of an offence.

"In reality, she has hit someone on the head with papers.

"Is that something we can be seen to condone? I don't think it is and I think we would be held in jeopardy if we decided not to investigate matters like this."
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