A JUDGE yesterday accused prosecutors of “incompetence bordering on misconduct” after he was forced to ignore vital evidence when sentencing a thug who left an innocent man with long-term brain injuries.
Paul Oakden, 21, was given 32 months in jail yesterday after he admitted felling 35-year-old Iain Eldridge with a single punch outside a pub in Bawtry, Doncaster, at midnight on New Year’s Day.
But halfway through the hearing at Doncaster Crown Court, Judge Peter Kelson QC said he could not take into account some prosecution evidence, because it had not been properly served on Oakden’s defence.
The court heard Mr Eldridge, a British Gas engineer from Auckley, Doncaster, was now in a wheelchair and had to wear a protective helmet after undergoing brain surgery for injuries inflicted in the attack.
Handing down the sentence, the judge said he was “staggered in a case of this gravity” that errors had been made with evidence which, if handled properly, could have resulted in more jail time for Oakden.
Outlining the case to the court, prosecutor Carl Fitch said Oakden changed some of his clothes after the attack in a bid to avoid detection, but the evidence was struck out because of the technicality.
The furious judge said he would be forced to disregard what would have been an “aggravating feature” and would have to sentence Oakden based on the rest of the case as presented by Mr Fitch.
The court heard Mr Eldridge had been out in Bawtry to celebrate the New Year with friends and his girlfriend, Julie Darby, 40. The couple had gone outside a pub, the Penny Farthing, for some air.
They then met Oakden, of Kingswood Close, Bawtry, but according to Mr Fitch: “Nothing was said, there was no eye contact and the defendant just walked past.”
But Oakden came back a few minutes later “looking nasty” and punched his victim. Mr Fitch added: “The blow knocked Mr Eldridge off his feet. He fell to the floor and cracked his head on the pavement.”
Oakden ran off after the attack despite Miss Darby giving chase. Mr Eldridge was taken to Doncaster Royal Infirmary and later tranferred to Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital for brain surgery.
Mr Fitch said he suffered a bleed on the brain and needed a tracheotomy, and almost five months later still had significant speech, cognitive and mobility problems as well as a hole in his skull.
The prosecutor said: “It is more than likely that he will not be able to continue with his employment and his future ability to work at all is in doubt.
“He will have to wear a protective helmet for four to six months before a titanium plate is inserted in his skull and the prospect of that leaves him terrified.”
Detectives said Mr Eldridge, a father of two girls aged 10 and 13, would have liked to attend yesterday’s hearing, but did not feel able. Instead, a statement from him was read to the court.
It said: “I feel terrible about what happened. I am a law-abiding person, I have always worked, I am a good person and a good dad.
“I feel that to go out that night with Julie and to get attacked for no reason is awful. All I was doing was enjoying a night out with Julie and friends.”
Oakden was finally tracked down a week after the attack and after his arrest said he had thought the couple had been having a “domestic” and he went back to try and protect Miss Darby.
In mitigation, Pam Coxon said Oakden accepted that he was responsible, but said it was a “one-off, single isolated act” committed while he was drunk.
Sentencing Oakden, Judge Kelson said: “Your punch caused your victim the most appalling injuries. I cannot overstate the severity of those injuries. You then behaved like a coward and ran away to try and get away with it.
“This case, in my view, is a very, very serious case of its kind. That night you took the law into your own hands and wrecked the life of another human being.”
Speaking outside court, Miss Darby said what happened on the night was like “something out of a horror movie”. She added: “I am pleased with the sentence. Oakden deserves all he gets.”