A SELLAFIELD worker’s night out to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday ended horrifically when he was attacked and gravely injured by a stranger – for trying to get into a taxi.

The unsuspecting victim of Liam McConnell’s unprovoked “one-punch” assault on a street in Whitehaven suffered a catastrophic brain injury, which has left him unable to walk, talk or care for himself.

Despite his victim being sprawled on the ground, gravely injured, 29-year-old McConnell “casually walked away,” Carlisle Crown Court heard.

The defendant was sentenced after he had earlier entered a guilty plea to a single count of inflicting grievous bodily harm on his victim during the early morning attack on Sunday, April 14.

Prosecutor Andrew Evans outlined the facts.

He outlined the statement of a woman who was driving a taxi that night and delivered McConnell and another man to the corner of George Street, where the defendant stepped on to the pavement.

The victim was approaching the taxi to get in, which inexplicably prompted McConnell to react aggressively, asking the man: “What the **** are you doing?”

The man explained that he just wanted to go home. Almost immediately, McConnell punched him, making him collapse to the ground as his attacker walked away.

Given emergency first aid at the scene, the man was rushed to Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital where doctors diagnosed multiple brain bleeds.

He was transferred to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

He remains in that hospital today, having suffered a 'life-changing' brain injury, which has left him unable to walk, talk, or care for himself.

Mr Evans said: “The phrase 'life changing' injury is given real and heart-rending life when you read how his partner’s plans to start a family are now on hold; how his father moved across the country to be near his hospital; and how his family fear his brain injury will rob them of the person they loved.

“The suddenness of the change is as impactive.  

“His partner received the call at 4.30am to tell her that her partner was in critical care, under sedation and undergoing a CT scan to determine the extent of a serious brain injury.  

"Upon arrival at Newcastle, the family were warned that [the victim] may not survive surgery.”

The prognosis for the victim remains uncertain, the court heard.

Earlier in his opening, Mr Evans had described how the victim had been to a 40th birthday party at Whitehaven Rugby Union Club.

The mood was celebratory and good-humoured.

The party had moved on at midnight to a bar in the town, and then another and another, where the mood continued to be joyful, with dancing and hugging, and eventually the party broke up into separate cabs home.

The victim – unfamiliar with the town – was looking for a lift home when he went to a taxi-rank and encountered McConnell.

Mr Evans referred to 24-pages of written material which outlined the impact of the injury the victim sustained, and how he was described as “loved, likeable, popular, knowledgeable, patient, and friendly.”

He was also caring, and easy going, witty and selfless, said his partner.

Alasdair Campbell, defending, said McConnell, formerly of Gameriggs Road, Whitehaven, had relapsed into alcoholism and had been due to get professional help on the Monday after the tragic assault he committed.

The barrister referred to previous successful attempt to turn his life around. “There is a desire to change,” said Mr Campbell.

Judge Michael Fanning noted that defendant’s 49 previous offences, described as mostly low-level thefts, battery assaults, and court order breaches.

The taxi driver whose cab McConnell had used judged him to be "nice" - until the moment he stepped out of car. The judge told the defendant: "She wasn't concerned. But you took an instant dislike to [the victim] simply because he wanted to use that taxi.

"It was an impulsive, spontaneous, short-lived assault... a single blow." 

Of the victim, the judge said: “The injury is quite properly described as devastating…His life has changed irrevocably. He and his family will have to live with the consequences of your mindless, thuggish violence.”

Jailing McConnell for 27 months, the judge addressed the victim’s family in court, accepting that to them it may appear “grossly unfair” to have a maximum five year potential sentence for an attack which shattered the victim's life.

But legal constraints - including sentence reductions for admissions - limited the sentence that could be passed, he said.

Those who pleaded guilty were given shorter sentences were given reduced sentences partly because this saves family members from having to go to court to hear harrowing evidence. 

The judge said: “The law is the law, and I have applied relevant guidelines in this case...That's the system we have; that's what we have, I' afraid." Concluding the case, the judge said he hoped the victim can make "as good a recovery as possible".

* All judges are obliged to work within the constraints of statute and "sentencing guidelines" which stipulate sentence ranges and maximums, which change according to issues such as the plea, criminal history, mitigation, and culpability.

Judges who deviate from the official guidance run the risk of sentences being appealed or overturned at a later date.