Woman handed suspended sentence for hitting boy in face with paddle

A woman who left a 12-year-old boy permanently scarred after hitting him in the forehead with a paddle has been handed a suspended prison sentence.

Fay Johnson, 32, admitted a charge of assault causing actual bodily harm on Antwon Forrest, who was attacked while with friends at Conham River Park in Bristol on March 26 last year.

Bristol Crown Court heard Antwon was part of a group of up to 30 children at the park, while Johnson was paddleboarding on the river with three children.

Some of the children were throwing balls of mud and rocks at those passing on the river, with these hitting boats, canoes and paddleboards. There is no evidence Antwon did this, the court heard.

Ehsanul Oarith, prosecuting, said an “agitated and visibly angry” Johnson came to confront the group of children after her paddleboard was hit.

“She was at one point up against Antwon Forrest, they were both making comments towards each other,” Mr Oarith told the court.

“A witness saw them push each other, following which the defendant used the paddle in her hand to hit Antwon Forrest. There was a cut on his forehead. It was a 1cm-long cut which had to be glued closed.

“She had clearly lost it, she was very, very angry at the time.”

Avon and Somerset Police officers attended the scene after receiving a number of calls, including from Johnson, and arrested her. Johnson was later de-arrested and initially not prosecuted.

The force reviewed the case following a campaign by Antwon’s family. It was reclassified as racially motivated and Johnson was charged with assault.

Judge Edward Burgess, sentencing Johnson on Thursday, ruled the attack with the seven-foot-long paddle was not racially motivated.

Representing Johnson, who wept throughout the hearing, Emma Martin described her client as a devoted mother and stepmother who was “ashamed, desperately embarrassed and remorseful”.

Ms Martin said Johnson’s “protective maternal instinct spilt over into rage” after her daughter was hit by one of the rocks being thrown by some of the children.

“She realised they were throwing things not at her but they seemed to be directed at the children. One of those missiles hit her daughter,” she told the court.

The court heard Antwon “stood up to” Johnson as she shouted at the group.

“She was pushing him back, he then put both of his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back, she struck him with the paddle,” Ms Martin said.

The barrister stressed there were no racial undertones to the attack, adding that commentary on social media had not been based on facts.

In the aftermath of the incident, Johnson and her family received abuse including death threats. They have had to move house and she has changed jobs.

Judge Edward Burgess sentenced Johnson to four months in prison, suspended for six months.

“You struck him in the forehead with a very large paddle, causing a nasty injury which bled heavily at the time and has left a visible scar,” the judge told Johnson.

“Every time he looks in the mirror as he grows up, throughout his life, it will be a constant reminder of what you did to him.”

The judge added: “I am satisfied it was not in any way racially motivated. I accept this was an impulsive act of violence.”

He said the prison sentence of four months could be suspended given Johnson’s good character before the offence, her remorse, her personal circumstances and that she had “already suffered significantly”.

Johnson was also ordered to pay £500 compensation to Antwon, who is now aged 13.

Speaking outside court, Antwon’s grandmother Tania Palmer and aunt Antonia Forrest said they did not want Johnson to go to prison but were surprised the sentence had not been longer.

They expressed concern about the threats Johnson and her family had received, adding they were disappointed the case had not been dealt with sooner.

Miss Forrest, speaking about her nephew, said: “He was so traumatised. It has terrified him.”

Johnson, whose address cannot be published for legal reasons, did not comment as she left court.