Thug jailed after slapping asthmatic Metro passenger in Covid face mask row
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James Rutherford, 21, was involved in a "sustained act of violence" that lasted for 15 minutes on the public transport service in which a man was left with three fractures.
Neil Jones, prosecuting, told the court that on the May 2 2021 the defendant got on the train at Pelaw with two other men.
The defendant was drinking a can of beer and not wearing a mask, at a time when face coverings were mandatory on the Metro.
His victim, who was already on the Metro when Rutherford got on, asked the group if there was a reason they weren't wearing masks to which one of the males told him 'Covid wasn't real'.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that violence flared when the man asked the group to stay away from him as he was asthmatic.
Rutherford then "tried to pull his mask off" and told him "I'll smash your face" before slapping him.
Violence ensued as the other men piled in causing the victim to be left with a fracture to his eye socket, upper jaw and top of his finger.
In a victim impact statement, the complainant said he had been left feeling "anxious" by the attack.
He said: "Since the incident I have hardly used the Metro and when I have it was with some considerable apprehension.
"I have been more anxious since the incident. I had to take time off work due to my injuries which amounted to six weeks.
"I have hardly visited Newcastle since. I look at people differently now. I sit in my house on my own."
In a later offence, on August 18 2021, Rutherford was drinking in Sunderland city centre bar Yates, on Burdon Road, when trouble flared.
He told the barman he wanted to make an official complaint about a drink tasting odd and handed across his name and number, which is how the police were later able to trace him.
The staff member then suspected Rutherford of handing an alcoholic drink to an underage man and so asked him to leave but as he did so a knife fell out of his pocket.
Rutherford fled and ran into the street where he started to cause "grief" to passers-by, with one member of the public becoming so annoyed he kicked him.
Rutherford, who has two previous convictions for actual bodily harm and criminal damage, pleaded guilty to affray and having an article with a blade or point.
Referring to the Metro incident, Fiona Lamb, defending, said: "I accept that he started it.
"That's all he did. He stepped away from it.
"The defendants role is limited to one slap. "The defendant has been speaking to DART, he had been speaking to the mental health team."
Mr Recorder Andrew Latimer told him: "You played a part in that affray, Mr Rutherford. Even if you didn't land the blow that caused the worst injury."
He also said that the incident must have been "frightening" for the victim.
He continued: "I also take into account what has been said in your favour.
“You have been trying to do your best."
Rutherford, of Eglesfield Road, South Shields, was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.