A DAD who bit off another man’s finger while at his child’s school nativity play has been jailed for 11 months.
Father-of-three Lee Wilkinson, 40, launched a bloody attack on Michael Dent after ‘laying down the gauntlet’ to go outside and fight while they waited for the performance to start.
Newcastle Crown Court heard yesterday how the pair were known to each other, as Dent had been having an affair with Wilkinson’s wife as he was working off-shore in the North Sea.
Wilkinson and Dent, 33, had been involved in a long-running feud prior to the attack at Harton Primary School in East Avenue, South Shields, on December 6, 2011.
As they arrived at the festive show, they were unaware that the other would be present, but upon seeing one other, they began fighting in the school foyer.
The incident was caught on the school’s CCTV as women could be seen rallying around the pair in a desperate bid to break up the vicious outburst.
But during the fight, when Dent put his hand up to Wilkinson’s mouth, Wilkinson responded by biting his rival’s little finger.
He bit through the skin, tissue and the tip of the finger on Dent’s left hand.
Bridie Smurthwaite, prosecuting, said how scientific expert Mr Cooper had believed ‘this injury must have required severe force’.
His report went on to say how ‘the injuries caused were consistent with the jaws going up and down on the tip of the victim’s finger and one of them would have had to pull with some force to cause the tip to have become separated from the rest of the finger’.
Wilkinson, of Fulwell Avenue, South Shields, pleaded guilty to unlawful wounding and a separate public order offence relating to a run-in between the two men on Christmas Eve in 2011, at an earlier hearing.
Miss Smurthwaite told the court how the pair had previously fought on two earlier occasions, and Dent was cautioned by police both times.
She said on the first occasion, on November 19, 2010, Dent had been at his ex-wife’s house when he saw Wilkinson in the conservatory.
He believed that he heard Wilkinson talking about him so he went into the conservatory and assaulted him.
On the second occasion in August 2011, Dent attacked Wilkinson outside the Glitterball night club in South Shields as he began to walk home.
The pair fought in the street and after police were called, Dent was again cautioned for assaulting Wilkinson.
In a statement taken by police, Dent said: “I’m worried about bumping into him in the street. I would have to claim compensation as I am a full-time scaffolder and will be unable to work for some time. It has caused a great deal of upset for my children.”
Miss Smurthwaite said: “Michael Dent had been cautioned but never convicted of assaulting Wilkinson.
“Outside the Glitterball nightclub, Dent jumped at him from behind, causing him to drop the mobile phone he was carrying. He then punched Wilkinson in the face and knocked him out.
“Dent had an affair with Mrs Wilkinson and the couple began living together.
“Both Dent and Wilkinson attended the infant school on the day of the nativity. Wilkinson arrived first and Dent queued behind him.
“During the struggle, Dent has his hand in the defendant’s face so Wilkinson bit his finger, not believing the finger would be severed.
“He pulled his hand away when it was bitten and the injury had occurred.
“The injury was consistent with a chewing action with the jaws being ground together.
“The defendant is sensitive about injury to his mouth area.
“When he was working as a taxi driver, he was assaulted in 2008. A passenger forced his mouth apart with his hands, causing injury.”
Tom Moran, defending, said: “The background to these two men goes back a long way.
“While working as a taxi driver in February 2008, Wilkinson was assaulted by a passenger who was not prosecuted.
“He had to have plastic surgery to the inside of his mouth after it was prised open during the attack.
“After being unable to work for some time, he then took on a job in the North Sea, which sees him work all year round and means he is often away for up to three weeks at a time.
“During one of the occasions he was away, his wife Louise, who he has three children with, started a relationship with Mr Dent.
“This was a relationship that became serious, and the two separated and she set up home with Mr Dent. There was a huge amount of animosity and hostility between the two of them.”
His Honour Judge Simon Hickey sentenced Wilkinson to 11 months’ imprisonment, 10 months for unlawful wounding and one month for a public order offence.
The judge said he had taken into account Wilkinson’s early pleas, the two earlier offences for which Dent had been cautioned for, his clear work ethic, and the fact Dent was having an affair with his wife.
Judge Hickey told Wilkinson: “You were both attending a nativity play at a local school. You both moved, as can be seen from the footage, into the foyer away from the children and I saw females of all ages in the area where you started to scuffle.
“During the course of this, you bit off the tip of Mr Dent’s little finger.
“It’s reassuring to see that you do not have any previous convictions for violence – you were a man of good character previous to this matter.
“The victim was spared any reliving of this offence as you pleaded guilty immediately.
“It was while you were away at sea to provide for your children that this man began an affair with your wife.
“It is in my judgement that if someone loses the tip of their finger, they will have the reminder of this throughout the rest of their life. It must be remembered that in this case, you used your mouth as a weapon.”