Dad put former employee in hospital for months after sports bar row

John Woods, of Orchard Lane, Ainsdale
-Credit: (Image: Merseyside police)

A single punch outside a sports bar cracked a man's skull and left him needing hospital care for months.

John Woods, 39, punched former friend John Barton, 37, outside the Champs pub in Ainsdale at around 10.45pm on February 24, 2023. Mr Barton had decided to gate-crash a party at the sports bar, and after being turfed out he was followed onto the street by a group of guests, including Woods - his ex-boss.

CCTV captured the moment Woods suddenly lashed out, punching Mr Barton in the head and leaving him unconscious on the ground.

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He was taken to The Walton Centre, where he had to be intubated and placed on a ventilator for 15 days while receiving treatment for a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain. He was transferred to a ward on March 19, where he received treatment from the trauma rehabilitation team, including occupational therapy and speech therapy.

He was discharged on May 9, and was cared for at home until May 31, when he was admitted to a brain injury rehabilitation programme. He remained there until August 10, 2023, when he was finally allowed to return home with the support of a community specialist rehab team. Doctors noted he suffered from low mood, significant anxiety, and PTSD symptoms as a result of the attack, along with some memory problems.

Prosecutor Derek Jones said: "He says he can now walk and talk and looks physically fine, but he's a different person. He struggles to communicate, especially if he's tired, he stutters. He struggles to remember words. He struggles to remember the names of people he knows. He talks about a loss of his sense of smell and appetite. He can no longer drive."

The court heard Woods and his victim had once been friends and had worked together, but the relationship had deteriorated after Mr Barton went to work for Woods' step-brother, whom Woods had fallen out with.

It was said Mr Barton had made a comment to Woods about the sibling rivalry, which led to Woods "losing his temper" and attacking him. The following day, he called Mr Barton's brother and apologised for what he had done.

Kyra Badman, defending, said Woods, of Orchard Lane, Ainsdale, had expressed sincere remorse for his actions, and had "genuine empathy and sympathy for Mr Barton and his family".

She said: "He is a family man; he has a partner and a child aged three. He's the breadwinner for the family. His partner works part time as a hairdresser. He set up his own bricklaying business four years ago and now he's a respected business owner and employer. His business has been successful. He's supporting his family. If he wasn't in a position to do that, it would be a significant impact on his family. While the mortgage is in his partner's name, she would be unable to meet these mortgage payments on her own."

She added that the attack had been "impulsive and spontaneous", but accepted Mr Barton's injuries had been "particularly grave".

Sentencing Woods, Judge Neil Flewitt said: "What's clear from the CCTV is Mr Barton was escorted from (the pub) and while he was standing outside he was joined by a number of other people from inside the premises, inclduing you. I don't accept it was just a coincidence that you found him outside. It seems to be that that group went outside to see Mr Barton on his way, and you were one of that group.

"Words were exchanged and you have said that he made comments that brought back to the surface the feelings of betrayal you felt. You struck what must have been a forceful blow with your fist that made contact with his head and knocked him to the floor. That was an entirely unprovoked attack. There was no threat to you at the time.

"The result of that blow had a significant effect on Mr Barton, and will have a significant effect on you and your family as well."

He accepted the assault was "impulsive and short-lived", but said: "If somebody chooses to land a forceful, unprovoked blow, the consequences of which is the sort of catastrophic brain injury that is this case, the public would be outraged if there was not an sentence of immediate imprisonment, and for that reason your sentence must be served immediately."

He sentenced Woods to 14 months in prison.

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