Man blinded in one eye says attacker’s jail sentence is ‘pretty lenient’

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A man who was blinded in one eye in a ‘one punch’ attack by his ex-wife’s new partner, said on Friday a three year sentence on the culprit - half of which he will serve in jail - is “pretty lenient”.

36-year-old Mark McClelland, originally from Ahoghill but now living elsewhere in County Antrim with a new partner, was speaking outside Antrim Crown Court where digger driver Chris Aitcheson (34) from Tobar Park, Cullybackey, was given a three year sentence sentence.

He will serve half of it in jail and the other half on licence.

Said Mr McClelland: “I think it was a pretty lenient sentence. I lost my right eye and had to give up my job and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have no confidence anymore and don’t like to go to crowded places, even like going to the shops.

“It has really changed my life”.

Aitcheson previously pleaded guilty to maliciously causing grievous bodily harm to Mr McClelland during an incident at Maine Park, Galgorm, on Wednesday April 29, 2015.

A previous hearing was told Mr McClelland was “defenceless” as he sat seat-belted in a car beside his mother.

The victim was unable to continue working as a van driver and now receives counselling for post-traumatic stress.

Mr McClelland had gone to pick up his children from his ex-wife Laura McMaster, who was by then Aitcheson’s partner.

The court heard a row had earlier erupted after Mr McClelland told Ms McMaster he would be unable to pick up the kids at 6pm because his car was getting fixed.

Prosecutor Tessa Kitson said there was a “verbal altercation” on the phone as Ms McMaster had arranged to go out.

And when Mr McClelland’s mother later took him to Galgorm he was confronted by Aitcheson who attacked him in the car.

Ms Kitson said McClelland said he was seat-belted in the front passenger seat and Aitcheson approached saying something like “I obviously didn’t make myself clear the first time” before opening the car door and punching him.

The prosecutor said the victim “lost his eye” and was no longer able to work as a van driver and suffered “considerable psychological” damage about being able to provide for his children.

Ms Kitson said it was an attack on a “defenceless” man as the victim “never got a chance” to release the seat belt.

Defence QC Alan Kane told the previous court Aitcheson and Ms McMaster, had been caused “angst” previously by Mr McClelland failing to turn up for the children and claimed tensions were raised by the words exchanged earlier between the victim and Ms McMaster.

Mr Kane said Aitcheson alleged Mr McClelland told him if he “didn’t bring out my weans I will go in and hammer your wean (the defendant’s then one-year-old daughter) around the house”.

During sentencing at Antrim Crown Court on Friday, Alan Kane said the defendant wished to unreservedly apologise for the “traumatic” incident and said there had been a “most unfortunate outcome” from one blow.

One centimetre of a difference and the victim could have just suffered a black eye in the “moment of folly”, said Mr Kane

Judge Desmond Marrinan said he did not accept the claim Aitcheson was provoked by a comment from Mr McClelland.

He also rejected assertions that Aitcheson had begun to “rain” blows on Mr McClelland, instead the judge said it was “effectively one punch”.

If Aitcheson had walked on to football practice instead of attacking the victim he would not be in court, said the judge.

He said the defendant had a good work record and work colleagues viewed the incident “out of character”.

The judge told Aitcheson he didn’t know what he was thinking on the evening in question although he said it was clear there was “tension” surrounding earlier phone calls.

Judge Marrinan said that “without any obvious provocation” the defendant approached Mr McClelland who was “helpless” in the car and he struck him a blow on the eye and then left the scene.

He said the victim had “suffered terribly” and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; depression and lost a lot of weight because of his condition.

The judge said he had to give credit for a guilty plea and that a Probation officer said Aitcheson was remorseful as he imposed a three year sentence, 18 months of which will be served in custody and the rest on licence.

Aitcheson’s partner was allowed to visit him in the courthouse cells before he was taken to jail.