Judge frees paras who savagely beat man

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The Independent Online
An MP is to protest to the Secretary of State for Defence after a judge allowed four paratroopers who crippled a father of two to walk free from court, on the grounds that the public would not want their training wasted for "a moment of madness".

The drunken soldiers attacked James McGuire, 33, outside a nightclub, kicking him "ferociously" as he lay curled up on the ground where they had felled him.

Mr McGuire suffered fractured arms, broken ribs and head injuries and spent ten days in hospital. He was unable to work for four months and cannot pick up his two young children.

But all four soldiers walked free from court yesterday following the judgement of Judge David MacLaren Webster, QC.

"It will be of more value to your country to do some community work than for me to incarcerate you," he said. "I do not think the public would want all your past service training thrown over for a moment's madness," .

"The service you have given to your country must weigh in your favour. It will not repair the damage to Mr McGuire's broken bones if I were to ruin your lives and Army careers by sending you to prison," he added.

The sentence was condemned by Aldershot MP Julian Critchley, who described it as "shocking".

"I shall take the matter up with the Secretary of State for Defence and suggest that the sentence was far too light. The military authorities ought also to take disciplinary action," he said.

The attack started when Mr McGuire was waiting to get into Owls Nightclub in Aldershot, last September. According to Imogen Robins, prosecuting, Lance Corporal Stuart Baillie, 26, spoke to Mr McGuire in the queue.

"The conversation became aggressive and Mr McGuire began to feel uncomfortable. Then without warning Baillie punched him on the nose and another paratrooper came up," she said.

Mr McGuire, a self-employed carpet cleaner, feared that he was going to be attacked again and ran off towards a nearby police station. Ms Robins added: "He was tripped up in a car park and fell to the ground where he was ferociously kicked by four soldiers."

L/Cpls Baillie, and Justin Woodcock, 22, and Privates Craig Harris, 23, and James Collins, 21, were appearing for sentence at Winchester Crown Court after they had earlier admitted unlawfully wounding Mr McGuire. They denied charges of violent disorder and inflicting grievous bodily harm.

Baillie was out celebrating his promotion to Lance Corporal, said Ian Hughes, defending. Captain Philip Dove described them as "excellent soldiers" trained to react in situations of violence.

Baillie was ordered to complete 200 hours community service and told to pay Mr McGuire £4,000 compensation. Collins, Woodcock and Harris were each ordered to complete 180 hours community service, and to pay £3,000 compensation to each.

Mr McGuire reacted angrily to the sentences, describing them as "disgraceful". He said he would also be taking the matter up with the Secretary of State for Defence and said that the military authorities ought to take disciplinary action.

"If the judge had four civilians in court for doing this to a soldier they would definitely go to prison. I was just minding my own business when these men started to attack me for no reason. I tried to run to a police station but they caught me and kicked hell out of me. I could hear the bones in my arms cracking," he said.

"None of them ever apologised to me," he added. "They seemed more worried about the disgrace brought upon their regiment."