Man jailed over unprovoked attack


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The Independent Online

A 21-year-old man who "wrecked the life of another human being" with one unprovoked punch has been jailed for two years and eight months.

Iain Eldridge, now 36, was enjoying a New Year's Eve night out in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, with his partner Julie Darby when he was attacked by Paul Oakden in the early hours of January 1, this year.

Oakden punched gas engineer Mr Eldridge, who hit the ground causing severe head injuries, Doncaster Crown Court heard.

Mr Eldridge, from Auckley, near Doncaster, suffered bleeding on his brain and was in intensive care for a month.

He is now in a wheelchair and battling against a range of physical and mental problems, the court heard.

A judge said the case was "very close to being one-punch manslaughter".

The court was told how Oakden claimed he thought there had been an altercation taking place between Mr Eldridge and Ms Darby but he later accepted he had completely misunderstood the situation after drinking a large amount of beer.

Judge Peter Kelson QC heard how Mr Eldridge still has part of his skull missing due to the surgery he had been subjected to and would need a further operation to have a titanium plate fitted.

He was told he now struggles to play with his two daughters - aged 10 and 13 - and has not been able to work, leaving him fearing for his family's financial future.

Police said Mr Eldridge did not feel up to attending court today.

But, in a statement read to the court, he said: "I'm a law abiding person, I've always worked, I'm a good person and a good dad.

"I've never said a bad word to anyone - never had a fight.

"For me to go out that night with Julie and get attacked is awful.

"All I was doing was enjoying a night out with Julie and friends."

Sentencing Oakden, Judge Kelson said: "I cannot overstate the severity of these injuries."

He said: "For the foreseeable future, his (Mr Eldridge's) life is not far off wrecked."

The judge told Oakden: "You completely misconstrued the loving exchanges between Mr Eldridge and his girlfriend.

"For some reason you got into your head they weren't loving exchanges but they were possible domestic violence.

"Unfortunately, you decided to take the law into your own hands, you became judge and jury."

Judge Kelson said: "You walked back to them and you landed one massive blow to Mr Eldridge's face. He didn't see it coming.

"He fell to the floor and landed with an almighty crash."

The judge said Oakden had consumed seven or eight cans of lager before leaving for the pub that night and a further three to four pints while out.

Judge Kelson said this was "over a gallon of alcohol".

He told Oakden: "That night you took the law in to your own hands and wrecked the life of another human being."

Oakden, of Kingswood Close, Bawtry, admitted one count of causing grievous bodily harm.

He sat in the dock staring straight at the judge through the hearing, sporting short hair and a goatee beard and wearing a white shirt with a black tie.

As he was taken out of the dock the were shouts of "scum" from the public gallery.

Speaking outside court, Ms Darby said she did not accept Oakden's claim that he simply misunderstood the situation.

She said: "He's a pure thug. I'm just glad he's off the streets and he can't do this to any other family."

Ms Darby added: "We don't know what the future holds, to be honest - if he'll work again.

"He's got two young daughters and he can't play with them like he used to.

"I don't know what we're going to do."

She said she was happy with Oakden's sentence.

The court heard how the last thing Mr Eldridge remembers is chatting to Ms Darby in the pub, planning the rest of their lives together.

The judge was told they had met four months before the incident.

In a statement released through police, Ms Darby and Mr Eldridge's family said: "Iain is a hardworking and honest family man who was just out enjoying News Years Eve as hundreds of other people were doing, when he was assaulted in a completely unprovoked attack by Oakden.

"There is no other reason as to why he attacked Iain other than he is just a thug who was out to cause trouble.

"He won't admit this and continues to lie about the attack, but he knows in his own mind what he's done and that he has ruined our lives."

Det Ch Insp Steve Whittaker, of South Yorkshire Police, said: "The ferocity of the unprovoked punch left Mr Eldridge with no time to defend himself and in a life threatening condition for over a month.

"Now at home, he is progressing well; however, it is a long recovery process he will have to undergo, which will require further operations and the long-term prognosis is unknown but totally life-changing for him.

"Oakden has shown no remorse for his actions and from his violent, drunken behaviour, he has created an overwhelming amount of distress and heartache for Mr Eldridge and his family, in particular his two young children who could have very easily been left without a father because of Oakden's senseless crime."