A road rage victim was left with blood pouring out of his mouth after a thug launched an unprovoked roadside attack.
Aggressive Peter Hanlon later had the nerve to blame his innocent victim Luke McKeever, claiming he acted in self-defence because he feared for his own safety.
But after Mr McKeever took photograpgs of Hanlon and his car’s registration, the 44-year-old was tracked down by police and convicted after a trial before district Judge Roger Elsey at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.
The judge was shown gruesome pictures of 20-year-old’s injuries, taken in the hours and days after the attack by Hanlon, who had denied assault.
Prosecutor Janice Bellamy said Mr McKeever – a support worker for people with learning difficulties – had been driving his car east along Wessington Way, in Sunderland, at 12.30pm on March 13, when he became aware of Hanlon’s BMW.
After weaving in and out of traffic, Hanlon drove up alongside Mr McKeever’s car and started gesturing at him. Hanlon’s car then pulled off the road and turned into a layby, where both men got out of their cars.
‘It is quite clear that the punch was not any sort of defence move’ judge roger elseyDistrict Judge Roger Elsey
“Without provocation he was punched in the mouth,” Ms Bellamy said.
The court heard McKeever then took photographs of Hanlon and his car’s registration, before Hanlon fled the scene. As a result of the photographs, Hanlon was traced by police.
“He admitted he was the driver but said the other driver was at fault and that he had pushed this other man in the mouth, but only in self defence – a pre-emptive push – because he thought he would be assaulted,” Ms Bellamy said.
Giving evidence, Mr McKeever said he had been driving his red Vauxhall Astra in the right-hand lane with his girlfriend as a front seat passenger.
He described Hanlon’s silver BMW 5-series weaving in and out of traffic, before driving about a foot from his bumper. “He was too close, very close,” Mr McKeever said. “He was shouting, hurling abuse at us. I pulled into the left-hand lane when I could.
“He pulled alongside us. He gestured for us to open the window he said ‘pull over and we’ll sort it out’. He was shouting, waving his hands.
“He pulled in front of me when we got to the BP station. He then stopped his car, he was stationary for approximately 10 seconds.
“I couldn’t get in the right-hand lane to overtake at that point, so I had to stop. I shouldn’t have followed him, but I felt like I had to say something because he was driving dangerously.”
Mr McKeever said he remained in the vehicle after stopping outside an Evans Halshaw garage, as Hanlon approached him on foot and told him to get out of the car.
He told the court: “I got out of the car and I said ‘Why are you driving like that? You are a grown man’. I was up against my car, he was standing right in front of us. I didn’t approach him, I was no threat at all. He hit me with his fist, it burst my lip. My tooth went through my lip.”
The court also heard evidence from Mr McKeever’s girlfriend Nicole Dunn, a fellow support worker, who in an attempt to protect her boyfriend got out of the car and stood between the two.
As Hanlon was distracted, a bleeding Mr McKeever managed to grab his phone and take the photographs that snared his attacker.
Mr McKeever’s wound was closed with steri-strips after he attended hospital, and took two to three weeks to heal. However, he told the court that six months on he still has a visible scar and that he can feel scar tissue inside his mouth.
A statement read out from Pc Karl Peterson, who attended the scene, said: “I could see he had sustained an injury to his top lip. It was swollen and dripping with blood, he was otherwise calm.”
When Hanlon took to the witness box, he said he had stopped in the middle of Wessington Way because he intended for Mr McKeever to go past him and “let him continue on his journey”.
“He was following us, I stopped just to let him get away,” he said.
Hanlon, of Torver Crescent, Seaburn Dene, also said that he had not noticed any injury or blood on Mr McKeever.
“I just pushed him with my hand,” he said. “I struck him in the face in self-defence.”
Judge Elsey said: “It is quite clear, on all the evidence, that the punch was not any sort of defence move and was clearly aggressive and has caused significant injury. I am satisfied that it was a punch, not a push and it follows that the defendant is convicted of this offence.”
The court heard that Hanlon has previous convictions for battery and assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which date back a number of years.
Paul McAlindon, defending, asked the judge not to impose a driving ban, due to his work as a HGV driver.
“It’s going to impact on him meeting any financial obligations including compensation for the injury caused,” he said, adding: “It’s one punch. There is no history of driving offences on his record.”
The judge said: “I was minded to disqualify you from driving – I would have disqualified you, despite the fact that you drive for a living.
“I’ve drawn back from that because of the reference from your employer, but you must clearly understand, that if there is any repetition of any behaviour of this sort again, that is what will happen.”
Hanlon was told to pay £250 in compensation to Mr McKeever and was fined £200, with £100 costs and £20 victim surcharge.