Man broke workmate's jaw after 'mistakenly thinking he was about to be attacked'

A man broke the jaw of a workmate in a brawl at the scaffolding company where both were employed after mistakenly thinking he was about to be attacked, a judge heard.

Matthew Hardcastle punched Peter O'Toole in the face as the other man was loading a lorry, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told yesterday.

When the 40-year-old victim moved to put some planks on the vehicle the defendant wrongly believed he was preparing to hit him - and hit out, explained Graham Russell, prosecuting.

After striking the blow Hardcastle got the other man in a headlock and delivered several other blows as the pair brawled on the ground until being separated by two colleagues, it was said.

Trouble flared after the defendant became upset after his stepson, whom he had taken to work, started helping Mr O'Toole in the yard at A Plus Scaffolding in Victor Works, Northcote Street, Walsall, on February 7 continued Mr Russell.

Mr Russell continued:"The defendant believed his stepson was going to assist him and said as much. The other man replied that this was a matter for the supervisor and continued to load the lorry.

"Perhaps because his temper was up, the defendant mistook this as a sign of aggression and punched the victim in the face. Both went to the ground. He had Mr O'Toole in a headlock and punched him up to seven more times more in the face and head before they were separated by two workmates."

Mr Russell added: "Rather stoically Mr O'Toole then continued about his business and even went to the pub with some of his colleagues later that day. His intention was to try to forget and let bygones by bygones. The two men had a phone conversation during which the defendant apologised for what had happened."

But the pain the victim felt in his face got worse and he eventually went to hospital where it was discovered that he had a broken jaw that required surgery during which he also had four teeth extracted, the court heard. He could not eat solids for eight weeks after the operation and was adamant that he had not tried to punch or head Hardcastle before his workmate launched the assault.

The defendant later claimed: "Even if I was mistaken I thought that he would attack me but I accept causing the injury even though I was surprised by its extent and did not intend to do it."

Mr Gavin McLeod, defending, maintained: "The blow before they tumbled to the ground was the one that inflicted the serious injury. He is a man of physical strength who, on occasions has problems dealing with provocation."

The lawyer also claimed that Hardcastle was having to deal with unspecified difficulties at home that had left him 'agitated and distressed.'

The defendant from Handley Street, Wednesbury admitted causing grievous bodily harm and was given a nine month jail sentence, suspended under supervision for a year with a three month night time curfew and £420 costs.

Judge Michael Dudley told him: "You landed a heavy blow followed by a continuing assault."