Church Street, Portadown

An American woman has claimed that she was subjected to a tirade of "vicious and venomous" verbal abuse from a group of pensioners in a Portadown post office.

Originally from Virginia Beach, and now living in Armagh, Shelia Graham was posting some packages at Brownstone post office in Portadown when she alleges she was verbally attacked by a group of five elderly people because of her nationality.

Shelia told the Portadown Times that while she was being served at the counter she was aware of “growing tension and mutterings” behind her.

"I heard a man say something like 'American this or American that' and I got the feeling that he was somehow fuelling the others. Hearing that, I just thought to myself 'Oh they're not happy'. So to lighten the tension I turned round and said, 'This is lovely Christmas music'," said Sheila.

She continued: "Then a woman looked at me with a look that could kill - one that said that I had no business being there. You could see the venom coming out of them. It was scary."

Shelia who has lived in Northern Ireland for the past seven years said one  woman who looked “middle-aged” began screaming and saying that she had "no right to be there".

"I decided to take a stand and defend myself. I have nothing but respect and love for older people and I'm so passionate about that so much so that I've brought my children up to do the same. So I replied that I had every right to be there, that I was a paying customer. I know on Mondays that pensioners usually cash their pensions but I had been in the queue and had let so many people go ahead in front of me. Then the woman just shouted, 'Go back to your own country'.

"Just because it's 'pensioners' day' it doesn't give them the right to act like that," she said.

The American woman claims that the elderly group behaved more like children rather than adult and was very shaken by the encounter.

"I couldn't stop crying. I've since spoken to a few people and I was told that they've experienced something similar. One person told me not to take heed but it was horrible."

The matter sparked public debate after Shelia phoned the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio5 to discuss the incident.

"Many people who listened were very shocked by it and phoned into the show to say that I was right to stand up for myself," she said.

"I'm still not sure why they were so angry. Was it because they had somewhere to go and they were in a hurry or was it just because I was an American?"

The Armagh resident insists that she will still use the post office again in the future despite the altercation.

"The employees have always been good to me and I don't blame them in anyway for what has happened. The staff are very attentive so I would go there again," she said.