Paralysed mum applauds as attacker is jailed

Claire Hilton outside Newcastle Crown Court
Claire Hilton outside Newcastle Crown Court
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A MUM who was left paralysed after a petty row over a spilled drink applauded in court yesterday as her attacker was jailed for three and a half years.

Claire Hilton, 29, said she was pleased Christopher Towers was put behind bars for breaking her neck in a one-punch attack last summer.

But, after watching the proceedings in her wheelchair at Newcastle Crown Court, the devastated mum-of-one said she feels deep anger over what happened to her, and that Towers, 24, has ruined her life.

In a statement to the court, Ms Hilton said she feels her only point in living is because of her son, Callum, who is 11.

The telesales worker had been on a night out with pals at the Wheatsheaf pub in Boldon when trouble started over a drink that had been knocked over and marked Towers’s mum’s dress.

Prosecutor Julie Clemitson told the court: “Shortly before midnight, there was a minor incident inside the pub when a drink was spilled.

“It would appear to have been an accident, but caused a stain on Lynn Flaherty’s dress.”

Ms Hilton and her friends left the bar and started heading towards home, but Towers, his mum and his girlfriend, Kelly McKone, started shouting abuse at her group

This led to to Flaherty, who was out celebrating her birthday, slapping one of the group and Ms Hilton being “backhanded” by McKone.

But the court heard events took a devastating turn when Towers became involved.

Miss Clemitson said: “He ran over and punched Claire Hilton full force to the left side of her face.

“This knocked her over, she hit a wall behind her, before falling to the ground.

“Almost immediately, she came round and realised she was paralysed. She felt a tingling sensation, and she could not move her legs.”

As striken Ms Hilton lay injured on the ground her friend, Hugh Anderson, came to her aid, but he too was punched by Towers, though he did not suffer any serious injury.

Doctors say her neck injury is commonly seen in victims of road traffic accidents.

She spent five months in hospital, where she almost lost her life due to her devastating injuries, and had to undergo a serious operation.

It was initially feared she would be permanently paralysed, but is slowly showing signs of improvement.

But Miss Clemitson said: “The doctor does not anticipate that Claire will achieve what she could do before she was injured.

“Slow improvement is still expected but she will not have the same freedom of function for normal activities. Claire’s life has been turned upside down.” The court heard Ms Hilton, who moved to Sunderland from Boldon after the attack, had once enjoyed an active social life and loved going out for meals, but now needs help to eat.

But she said the biggest impact on her life has been the loss of quality time, and going on fun days out with her son, such as visiting the cinema, taking him to play football or going swimming.

Miss Clemitson said: “She said she loves him with all her heart, and without him she could not see any point in living.”

Ms Hilton broke down in tears when Alec Burns, defending Towers, told the court of the remorse he feels, and the fact he never intended to cause such devastation to anybody that night.

She said during the proceedings: “It’s remorse now he’s going to jail.”

Members of her family left the court in floods of tears during the hearing.

But more than a dozen of her supporters remained inside and applauded with her as Towers was led away. He was given three years for grievous bodily harm and 30 weeks for the assault on Mr Anderson.

Shouts of “see you later” and “I hope you enjoy it” were aimed at Towers, of New Road, Boldon, as he was led away by guards.

Mr Recorder John Aitken told him: “This was an ill-tempered and drunken dispute over next to nothing.

“It was an entirely catastrophic injury she describes as ruining her life. It is difficult to say anything else can be said about that.

“One can see she has approached her injury in a very determined way, but that does not do anything to lessen the impact you have had on her life.”

Flaherty, 46, of New Road, Boldon, was sentenced to a community order for 12 months.

McKone, 30, of Stanhope Road, South Shields, was sentenced to a community order with 40 hours of unpaid work.

Both women admitted common assault.