Football attacker spared jail term

Preston Crown Court
Preston Crown Court
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A football thug who left a man with a broken jaw was spared jail – because of his Asperger’s Syndrome.

Paul Atherton, 27, punched a rival player in the face so hard his victim had to take time off work and was temporarily restricted to a liquid diet.

But his violent attack during a match at Stanley Park did not lead to a prison sentence because he would find it “unusually difficult” to cope in jail, a court heard.

Atherton, of Warley Road, Blackpool, pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm and escaped with a suspended sentence and a 16-week curfew handed down by a judge at Preston Crown Court.

Harry Pepper, prosecuting, said the two men were on opposing teams during the match on the artificial pitch on August 2 last year.

The defendant was playing in central defence, while his victim was in central midfield.

Mr Pepper told the court: “Some of the witnesses describe them coming up against each other quite a bit and there being tough tackles.”

The court heard it was following a slide tackle by the other player, winning the ball, that Atherton punched him in the face, causing him to pour with blood.

The game was stopped.

The defendant was agitated and threatened to use violence against another player.

The injured man had an undisplaced fracture.

He also had sinus trouble as a result of what happened.

Atherton claimed to police he had acted in self defence after being tackled and elbowed.

Lisa Roberts, defending, said there had been a good deal of niggling between the two players during the match.

She said: “He gives a warning first and then does it if it happens again.

“This is what happened here.

“Because he has Asperger’s he vocalises what he will do and then carries it out.

“He regrets his actions. He is able to express his remorse. He is someone who needs routine and focus on a day to day basis.”

Atherton was given a 14-month prison term, suspended for two years, with two years’ supervision and a 16-week curfew, to run from 8pm-6am each night.

He had previous convictions for offences of violence.

Judge Robert Altham said: “If sent into custody, the defendant would find it unusually difficult to cope with”.

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