Judge brands thug a ‘violent coward’ for iron bar attack on victim who later died

Daniel Rochford was branded a violent coward by a judge.
Daniel Rochford was branded a violent coward by a judge.

A man who carried out an iron bar attack on a victim who later died was branded a ‘violent coward’ by a judge.

The Recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton made the remarks to Daniel Rochford as he was being sentenced for attacking Gary Hart in a street in Hartlepool.

You are a violent man, and you are a cowardly one.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton

Mr Hart, 37, was set on by a group of men as he walked near the junction of Hart Lane and Raby Road in April of 2014, Teesside Crown Court heard.

He suffered severe injuries to his ribs and died nine days later after taking heroin and crack cocaine.

Prosecutor Sean Dodds said Rochford was originally charged with manslaughter, but the prosecution on that charge could not proceed because none of three pathologists who examined Mr Hart could put the cause of death down to the iron bar attack.

Addressing members of Mr Hart’s family in the court’s public gallery, Judge Bourne-Arton said: “I accept you will always have a suspicion bordering on certainty your loved one would not have died had he not been attacked.

“But I hope you understand the prosecution would have to satisfy a jury so that they are sure of that.

“The medical evidence is not capable of doing that, so I agree with the course the prosecution has taken in this case.”

Rochford, 25, of Henderson Grove, Hartlepool, admitted causing grievous bodily harm on April 7, 2014.

The court heard he has previous convictions for assault, and is serving a sentence for violent disorder in a Hartlepool pub.

Also in the dock was Curtis Gretton, 25, of Thornton Street, Hartlepool, who admitted affray on the same date.

The court heard witness accounts of the incident are contradictory.

“It is not clear who was the initial aggressor,” said Mr Dodds. “In a statement taken from Mr Hart prior to his death, he said someone had sworn at him and called him a smack head.

“He also heard someone say ‘go and get the tools’, a reference to the bar.

“Mr Hart said he carried on walking and was hit with the bar from behind, sending him to the ground.

“Another witness said she saw Mr Hart cowering on the ground as a second blow was struck.

“Rochford accepts one blow, but not two.”

Mr Hart suffered three fractured ribs, which needed four days of hospital treatment.

Nicholas Lumley QC, for Rochford, said: “It is our case the injury was not serious in the context of the charge, and Mr Hart would have made a full recovery from it.”

Ian Hudson, for Gretton, said his client had caused no injury, and had only pushed Mr Hart because he feared Mr Hart was about to strike a 15-year-old boy who had become involved in the fracas.

Judge Bourne-Arton sentenced Rochford to three years in prison, and sentenced Gretton to nine months, suspended for two years, a curfew of four months, and 140 hours of community work.

The judge told Rochford: “You are a violent man, and you are a cowardly one.

“This case demonstrates that, as does the violent disorder.

“You turn to violence for no good reason, but you first make sure the odds are stacked in your favour by having a weapon, and by having others around you as back up.

“You have offences of street violence on your record, and this was a group attack in a street, with a weapon, and it was carried out during the day when children and members of the public were present.”

The three-year sentence was ordered to run consecutively from the sentence for violent disorder, meaning Rochford has six-and-a-half years to serve, starting from November, last year.