A DRUG addict whose sickening attack on a vulnerable pensioner caused outrage around the world should use his four-year jail sentence to “do some thinking” his 4ft 6in victim has said.
Well-wishers who were moved by the plight of 67-year-old Alan Barnes raised £330,000 for him within days of Richard Gatiss’s cowardly assault.
The 25-year-old pushed Mr Barnes over as he put out the bins, breaking his collar bone.
Gatiss was desperate for money to buy so-called legal highs when he tried to mug him.
In a letter read out in court, his father Karl said Gatiss had been brought up to “help not to hurt people”, had been a kind-hearted boy who loved the outdoors but when he started to use drugs, “the likeable lad we had known slowly drifted away from us”.
Gatiss, of Split Crow Road, Gateshead, did not visibly react when he was jailed at Newcastle Crown Court, having previously admitted assault with intent to rob.
Mr Barnes thought that was the right sentence, adding: “I hope while he’s in prison he’ll do some thinking and when he comes out he’ll do something useful, maybe he might decide to help people which I think would be a good idea for him.
“It’s sad that he was brought to the stage of doing something like this, not necessarily just me it could have been anybody and they might not have got over the incident.”
Mr Barnes’s collar bone has now mended and he is looking to buy a house in Low Fell, Gateshead, where he has lived all his life.
Nick Dry, prosecuting, told the court the new house was “something made possible by the overwhelming support and generosity of people in the local area and indeed around the world”.
Mr Dry added: “Although he is still wary of going out, he is positive about the future and over the worst of the injury.”
Gatiss was caught from a DNA match on his victim’s jacket pocket.
Nick Dry, prosecuting, said Gatiss had failed to withdraw £10 from a cashpoint when he spotted Mr Barnes outside his bungalow in a sheltered accommodation complex on the evening of January 25.
Mr Barnes said he was aware of a shape coming towards him in the darkness and heard a man demand money.
Gatiss pushed the top of the frail pensioner’s head, forcing him to the floor, and rummaged through his pockets, Mr Dry said.
The broken collar bone the pensioner sustained in the incident stopped him being able to wash or feed himself for a period of time.
Mr Dry said: “These restrictions he found extremely frustrating, impacting as they did on his fierce independence.”
After he was arrested, Gatiss denied being involved saying he had been brought up better than that, then claimed a knifeman made him do it.
When he was challenged, he confessed and Mr Dry said: “He said he wanted money to buy legal highs to which he had become addicted, then breaking down, he was distressed at what he had done.”
Jamie Adams, defending, said it was “an awful case” but publicity surrounding it made it difficult to “keep a proper outlook on what the sentence should be”.
Gatiss, the court heard, was appalled by his behaviour, and his initial denials to police were due to his inability to accept what he had done.
Referring to his drug addiction, he told the interviewing detective: “I’m not a nasty person, it was bad but I’m sorting it out.
“You cannot just come off it like that or you will cut yourself.”
Mr Adams said: “He is making reference to those awful drugs, so-called legal highs, he had become addicted to over the past years.”
Gatiss had recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and his medication when mixed with legal highs would have a “deleterious effect”, the barrister said.
When he finally accepted he was responsible for the mugging, Gatiss was remorseful, as acknowledged by the interviewing officer.
Even on the prison bus to court, Gatiss had been “the subject of some pretty awful double-standard behaviour” from other inmates, Mr Adams said.
“Life is not easy for him.
“He is going to be in the public glare for a long time to come and he knows that.
“There is a lot for him to deal with.”
Judge Paul Sloan QC, sentencing, told Gatiss: “I have no doubt he was picked on by you because of his vulnerability.
“It was on any view a despicable offence.”
The judge hoped the public support Mr Barnes had received “has gone a long way to restore his faith in human nature”.
The online fund was set up by local beautician Katie Cutler, 21, who initially hoped to raise £500, enough to buy new carpets or curtains.
But the appeal went viral and his family called a halt when the total reached £330,000.
Many donors also left messages expressing their disgust that such a vulnerable man could be attacked.
Mr Barnes’s disabilities were caused when his mother contracted German measles during pregnancy.
Outside court, Superintendent Richard Jackson said: “We welcome the sentencing of Richard Gattis and this should send a message out to those criminals who think it is acceptable to target the vulnerable.
“It was down to the excellent work of detectives that we managed to forensically link Gattis to the incident and ultimately bring him to justice.
“I’d like to thank the public for their help and support throughout the investigation and I hope that today’s proceedings bring some closure to Alan and his family.”