A father-of-three put before the courts after he attacked his best friend was warned he could have been facing an extra two years on his sentence for verbally abusing his victim as an “after-thought”.
Burnley Crown Court heard how weekend binge drinker Michael O’ Rourke, 30, had verbally abused his neighbour after punching him twice in the face and knocking him to the ground in a fit of “ irrational jealousy,” sparked by the victim talking to O’ Rourke’s partner.
The defendant, who had knocked back a bottle of neat spirits before he struck, then lied to the police about what happened, claiming self defence.
The hearing was told the two men had been close friends for a decade, socialised and went fishing together, but the “serious and racial insult” at the end of the violence could have upped the defendant’s sentence by two years if he had not finally owned up.
The victim suffered a black eye and cuts to the side and back of his head in the unprovoked beating in August 2013.
O’Rourke had denied racially aggravated assault causing actual bodily harm, but had then changed his plea to guilty after the jury had been sworn in for his trial at Preston Crown Court.
O’ Rourke has now walked free from Burnley Crown Court, after a judge gave him help for his “ significant drink problem” as part of a suspended jail term.
The defendant, of Powell Avenue, South Shore, received eight months in prison, suspended for two years, with 240 hours unpaid work, six months’ alcohol treatment and six months of supervision.
Carl Hargan, prosecuting, told the court the defendant and victim had known each other for 10 years.
O’Rourke had been drinking and asked the victim round to his house. The victim was drinking beer and the defendant and his partner were having vodka.
The neighbour was speaking to O’Rourke’s partner in the garden and the defendant then attacked him. The victim fell and hit his head on the ground. He got up, left and went to the hospital for treatment to his injuries. A wound to the back of his head had to be glued.
Mr Hargan said the defendant was arrested and told police: “All I did was push him over as he tried to stab me.”
The prosecutor said O’ Rourke then gave another account in interview, claiming his neighbour picked up some scissors, the complainant’s mood had changed, the defendant perceived a danger and hit him to protect himself.
Mr Hargan, who said the assault was unprovoked, told the hearing, O’Rourke called the victim a name while he was on the ground.
He added: “The Crown say it was almost as an after-thought, unpleasant as it was, as opposed to being motivated by his racial background.”
O’ Rourke had a previous conviction for assault causing actual bodily harm, from November 2009, when he hit someone over the head with a bottle at a party.
He had been sentenced to a community order with unpaid work.
Peter Horgan, defending, said the offence was at the very bottom end of the scale with regard to the racially aggravated aspect of the assault.
He added: “He expresses he is not a racist within his pre- sentence report. The two men had been friends for 10 years. It was a momentary lapse on his part in that aspect.”
Mr Horgan said O’ Rourke was father to three step-children and was in work.
He added : “He is remorseful about what happened on this occasion. He is genuinely intent on trying to ensure that no such incident happens again.”
Passing sentence, Judge Robert Altham said the fact O’ Rourke and the victim were close friends and neighbours made what happened all the more inexplicable.
He told the defendant: “There’s no doubt that you were extremely intoxicated and there’s no doubt alcohol is a significant problem for your health, well-being and also you behaving in a lawful manner.”
Judge Altham said the insult to the victim was “ serious and racial” and added: “You need to understand that the courts and society cannot tolerate insults that are meted out on the basis of a person’s race or nationality.”
The judge said the sentence for racially aggravated ABH should be two years more than that for the non-racially aggravated offence, after a trial.
He told the defendant, he was not sending him to prison, as he had kept out of trouble since 2009, was a hard-working family man and didn’t have an “established and entrenched,” pattern of violence on his record.
The judge added: “Also, it seems to me that you are a person who operates at a perfectly decent level, apart from when he’s drunk.”