Brother of assault victim scarred for life slams prosecution of his attacker

The brother of a man who suffered life-changing brain injuries in a savage street assault branded his attacker's prosecution a "shambles" after his guilty plea to a lesser offence was accepted.

Tuesday, 26th April 2016, 8:54 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th April 2016, 9:58 am
Durham Police photos show the injuries stutained by Richard Stark, who was badly beaten up in a street attack

The man who attacked stranger Richard Stark could serve just a year in prison after he admitted grievous bodily harm (GBH), when his victim's family thought he was going to be tried for the more serious charge of grievous bodily harm with intent.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did not inform the family that it would accept the guilty plea to the less serious charge before the case was heard.

Richard Stark shows his injuries after the assault in a photo issued by Durham Police.

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Stephen Starling, 36, was jailed for two years after pleading guilty to GBH and could be freed after serving half that term.

The more serious charge carries a possible life sentence.

The victim's family had hoped his attacker would be charged with attempted murder, but accepted that a GBH with intent charge would still allow a judge to hand out a "hefty" sentence.

Mr Stark's brother Keith, from Thornley, said when they saw his injuries, family members thought he would die.

Richard Stark in the aftermath of the assault.

He was put in an induced coma after suffering brain swelling.

The ex-chef has been left scarred, with brain injuries and is living in care following the apparently motiveless attack a year ago behind a Darlington pub.

His brother said: "Richard is disfigured, he will never get his normal life back.

"He is very forgetful and I think living on his own is quite a way off.

Richard Stark after the wound to his face healed.

"We thought he would lose an eye because they had to stitch his right eye closed."

His brother, 40, said it was perhaps lucky that the victim cannot remember anything about the attack when he was left for dead.

The brother added: "When I went into the court I could tell it was a shambles as soon as I went in and it all went downhill from there.

"His attacker will serve less than a year, with good behaviour.

Richard Stark shows his injuries after the assault in a photo issued by Durham Police.

"He will be able to get on with his life. Richard will never get his normal life back.

"This is not justice at all. He will probably be out by Christmas, it's going to be a long road for Richard."

The CPS defended the decision to accept the guilty plea to the lesser charge, explaining it was for evidential reasons. In those circumstances, it said, there was no obligation to tell victims first.

A CPS spokesman said: "It is the duty of prosecutors to keep all cases under continuous review, in line with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

"During the prosecution of this case, it became clear that the evidential standard required to prove a section 18 assault charge could not be met.

"Given this, the decision to accept the defendant's plea to a section 20 offence was wholly appropriate.

Richard Stark in the aftermath of the assault.

"In cases where the acceptance of a lesser plea is made on public interest grounds, prosecutors will consult with the victim and police involved in the case, to ensure that the rationale for the acceptance of that plea is understood by all parties.

"In this case however the basis for accepting the lesser plea was entirely evidential, a fact that any such consultation would have been unable to change."

A meeting between the CPS and police will be held to find out why the victim was not informed.

A Durham police spokeswoman said: "Usually officers would be consulted prior to the CPS accepting a plea allowing officers the opportunity to discuss the decision with the victim.

"Unfortunately that does not appear to have happened on this occasion and the victim, who sustained life-changing injuries, has been left disappointed with the result of the court case.

"We are working with our partners in the CPS to identify why this happened and how we can prevent it happening again."

Richard Stark after the wound to his face healed.