The case concerns Paul Brown’s unsuccessful appeal against his GBH conviction (12months) from the 21st October 2010. Although the case was heard several months before the riots and the new, ‘tougher’ sentencing regime, it is interesting to note the lack of any softening because the punch happened on the playing fields rather than on the streets.
The assault itself occurred during a game of rugby in 2008 between two amateur Yorkshire clubs (West Park Leeds Lions & Ilkley). The victim (Mr David Tidman) had just got to his feet after being tackled and being at the base of a subsequent ruck and maul, when the defendant (Brown) ran a considerable distance and delivered a single punch to the Tidman’s right eye, knocking him out and causing grave injuries. The game was later abandoned.
One month later, Brown voluntarily attended a police station, where although he was arrested and charged, he denied the offence. This ultimately proved crucial to his sentencing, as although he was only 18 and of previously excellent character, the punch was a one-off incident, and there was a low risk of reconviction, the Judge (Hoffman J) was scathing of his defence.
Despite witness testimony to the contrary, Brown had tried unsuccessfully to argue that not only did he deny the offence, but that the blame for the incident should be placed on a smaller Canadian player, who was not called as a witness and was therefore unable to defend himself (to a certain extent, I can see his point – you know what these Canadians are like with all those Ice Hockey genes coursing through their veins!). On this occasion though, the Judge held that his defence was dishonest and absurd and while it did not increase the sentence, it did rob him of any sympathy the Court might have had, particularly since there was no evidence that Brown had accepted any responsibility for the injury.
While the Court of Appeal was at pains to include the ubiquitous confirmation that: “rugby was a contact sport and injuries quite frequently happen through perfectly normal and unintentional normal play….”
It did lay down a marker that: “….Nevertheless, unprovoked assault of the kind of which Paul Brown was convicted, is not only unacceptable, but must be dealt with in the way that such assaults have to be in these courts.”
Maybe there isn’t such a difference between criminal law and sports law after all? Or maybe the best advice for any athlete is simply to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity and blame the heat of the game rather than the Canadians!