An elderly former councillor was assaulted by a dad in a row over picking flowers in a Wearside park.
Sean Wright was with his four-year-old daughter when he punched former Sunderland City Councillor Sheila Ellis in Rectory Park in Houghton, on May 28.
Sunderland magistrates heard the attack came after 68-year-old Mrs Ellis, who is chairman of the Friends of Rectory Park, confronted the 26-year-old for picking flowers.
But Mrs Ellis managed to use her phone to take a photograph of Wright, who was later arrested.
Giving evidence in the witness stand, Mrs Ellis said she tends to the park three days a week and sometimes more often if the Royal Horticultural Society are due to visit, as it has won ‘outstanding’ awards in Northumbria in Bloom for the last three years.
The great-grandmother said that, on that day, she had gone to plant some flowers and had spent two to three hours in the park, when she came across unemployed Wright and his daughter.
I then turned from him and the next thing I felt, was a big pain in my back by my shoulder blades. My legs wouldn’t keep up with my body. I can’t remember hitting the ground, but I hit the groundSheila Ellis
Mrs Ellis, a former Houghton councillor, said: “The little girl was just standing on the path and the man was walking on the plants along the long border, picking the flowers.
“I approached him and said ‘please don’t pick the plants’.
“He said he would pick whatever he wanted, because they were wild flowers.
“I said ‘they have been planted in the park, don’t pick them’.
“He came out of the border and he made plain to me that he was going to carry on picking the flowers.
“The little girl had a glass, I think made of plastic, and it was full of flowers – blooms that had been growing in the long border.
“I said to the little girl, ‘don’t pick the flowers, petal’ because I thought it was a shame to teach a child that you can take whatever you like, and, I said that taking the flowers was theft.
“He kept disagreeing with me. I said ‘you are a thief because we planted these’, and he came at me and he pushed me in the chest, so I put my hands up to stop him doing it again.
“He then punched me in the chest. It was quite hard because my glasses came off. I had my phone in my hand and I took a picture because I was afraid of him. My phone went flying and my glasses went flying.
“I then turned from him and the next thing I felt, was a big pain in my back by my shoulder blades.
“My legs wouldn’t keep up with my body. I can’t remember hitting the ground, but I hit the ground.
“I did hear a big bang and I found out afterwards that my wheelbarrow had been smashed, but my first recollection afterwards, I was on the ground and thought how lovely and cool and damp the grass was against my face, but I couldn’t understand why my face was in the grass.”
Mrs Ellis said a lady then came to help her and police were called.
Although she did not suffer any broken bones, she was left with bruising.
“The next day I had a lot of pain just below my shoulder blade and there was a fair bit of bruising on my right hip,” she said.
Mrs Ellis added: “We have planted 150,000 bulbs and other plants in the park. It costs a lot of money.
“It’s not just me, it’s all the other people who have put in all this effort.
“I was talking to him like I’m talking to you now, I didn’t shout or scream, because there is no point is there?
“I didn’t want him to be picking the flowers because it’s not fair on the people who have spent time planting them.
“It’s unfair for one person to spoil things for other people who use the park and enjoy it.”
Wright, of Green Avenue, Newbottle, pleaded guilty to common assault, on a basis which was not accepted by the prosecution.
At a Newton hearing, he argued that Mrs Ellis had shouted and screamed aggressively at him and had man-handled his daughter.
Wright said he only accepted he had pushed Mrs Ellis once, to get her out of the way, so that he could run after his frightened daughter who aws heading for a road.
He also said the girl had been picking the flowers, not him. And he said he had seen an episode of BBC’s Countryfile, that said you could not pick bluebells, and had mistakenly believed other flowers could be picked.
Defence solicitor Tony Southwick also pointed out a number of inconsistencies between Mrs Ellis’ police statement and her evidence.
But bench chairman, Mr P Coulthard said: “Mrs Ellis’s evidence was credible.
“We accept there are some inconsistencies between her statement and evidence today, but we did not find your evidence as credible as Mrs Ellis’s and we find the prosecution case proved.”
Prosecutor Janice Bellamy said Wright has two previous, albeit dissimilar, convictions on his record. One for a road traffic offence last year, and one for criminal damage in 2013.
The bench ordered a pre-sentence report be prepared by the probation service, and Wright will be sentenced on October 25.