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News / Prison for single life changing punch

A YELL ferryman who left a fellow islander he grew up with suffering life changing injuries from a single blow to the head was jailed for 12 months at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Thursday.

Last month 34 year old Euan Henderson, of Torvaugh, Gloup, admitted assaulting the man following a small social gathering in the nearby village of Cullivoe on 21 July last year.

The court heard the two men had known each since childhood and were not the best of friends, and there had been “needling” between them all evening.

Henderson’s victim became fed up and left the house, at which point words were exchanged.

The man got into his van to drive away, but it stalled. Henderson stood in front of the vehicle to prevent him going any further, then dragged the man out of the driver’s seat and floored him with a single punch.

Witnesses told police that the man had been unconscious before he hit the ground and was therefore unable to break his fall.

He lay unconscious for at least ten minutes before coming to, after which he drove home and went to bed.

However the next morning his family called an ambulance when they realised he was far from well.

He was taken first to Gilbert Bain Hospital and then flown to Aberdeen by air ambulance because of the severity of his injuries.

In Aberdeen he underwent complex surgery and was kept in hospital for “a lengthy period”, before being sent home to convalesce.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said the victim would never fully recover from his injuries, having been left with memory loss and a significant risk of epilepsy setting in.

“Quite clearly the degree of violence involved in one punch is not at the most extreme level, but the consequences were quite simply devastating for the complainer,” he said.

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“This has been a truly life changing experience, the quality of his life is not and will never be what it was prior to this incident.”

Defence agent Tommy Allan stressed that Henderson took full responsibility for what had happened and the only reason it had taken almost a year to come to court was to ascertain the full extent of the victim’s injuries.

Allan said that for Henderson too this had been a life changing experience, especially living in such a small tight knit community.

He said it was clear the two men were not “at the top of each other’s Christmas card list” and in one view what happened that night was “playground stuff”.

He said Henderson had given no thought to how serious the consequences of his actions would be and had been “stricken with remorse” ever since.

He had tried to apologise to his victim and their family, even attending the house the day after the assault, but had “quite understandably” not been welcomed.

“These are two men who have grown up and lived within a fairly small community and that kind of ongoing bitterness is not something that would be easy for anyone on the community to cope with,” Allan said.

“It’s clear he enjoys some support within the community and he would very much like to be forgiven for this by the community. There is nothing he would like more than to make amends to the victim and be in a position to co-exist.”

Since then he had suffered from depression, keeping himself to himself and avoiding public functions in the local hall. “To some extent he’s been serving a sentence since this first happened,” Allan said.

He had also taken steps to deal with the issues that led up to the altercation, including his alcohol problems and the financial difficulties which were the subject of some of the “needling” that night.

“It’s not the case that he’s sat back and done nothing about his problems, he has done what he can to learn from what took place and to make sure it’s not something that happens again,” Allan said.

Arguing for him to be sentenced in the community, his lawyer said this would not be “an easy option”.

“I think it is fair to say that Mr Henderson will never escape what he has done in that community and he will pay a price probably for the rest of his life.”

Part time sheriff Marion McDonald had been called in to deal with the case after northern isles sheriff Philip Mann had been petitioned by an anonymous letter regarding the case, forcing him off the bench to ensure justice was “seen to be done”.

Sheriff McDonald told Henderson that having read the background report and the victim statement, she recognised this had been “a tragedy for your victim, but also for you and your family”.

She said that she had taken into account that this was out of character, was his first violent offence, the remorse he felt, the character references he had been given and the history between the two men.

However she also had to consider the serious life changing injuries that his victim had suffered.

“Having balanced all these I am of the opinion there is no alternative to a custodial sentence to mark the seriousness of the offence,” she said.

“You went to his car, you pulled him out of the car; I accept it was one punch but it must have been a very heavy punch to make him unconscious before he hit the ground.”

The 12 month sentence was reduced from 18 months because of Henderson’s early guilty plea.

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