South Shields yob hurled racist insults at former neighbour and threw hot coffee into his face

Newcastle Crown Court.
Newcastle Crown Court.

An attacker threw hot coffee into a man's face before hurling racist insults at him in a shocking street assault.

Lee Hepplewhite soaked his former neighbour without warning as they passed each other at the market place in South Shields last July then started throwing punches.

The 30-year-old cafe worker used shocking racist abuse towards the victim, who described himself as "mixed race", and stole the bike he had been riding.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 23-year-old had been going through the town centre market with a pal when he was targeted.

Prosecutor Jolyon Perks told the court: "He felt hot liquid in his face. That was, in fact, a hot coffee.

"He saw Mr Hepplewhite walking towards him and at that point Mr Hepplewhite threw two punches towards him."

The court heard the victim got off his bike through fear he was about to be hit and Hepplewhite started using sickening racist language , while calling him "scruffy" and "stupid" and warned "every time I see you, you are going to get it".

Hepplewhite, of Wallington Grove, South Shields, then rode off on the bike, which belonged to the victim's father and was worth over £200.

He pleaded guilty to racially aggravated common assault and theft.

The attack was captured on security camera from a nearby pub.

Mr Perks added: "He threw hot coffee in his face but did not appear to case anything other than reddening."

Mr Recorder Toby Hedworth sentenced Hepplewhite to a two-year community order with rehabilitation requirements and £200 compensation order in relation to the bike.

The judge said he accepted Hepplewhite, who has over 90 previous convictions, "is not normally a person who behaves in a racist way" and has nothing on his record to suggest that.

Recorder Hedworth said the attack was more to do "with the individual", who Hepplewhite claimed owed him money, than any true racist hatred.

But the judge told Hepplewhite: "That is behaviour that cannot, in any proper society, be tolerated.

"You live in South Shields, you know exactly what sort of community it is, you have got friends from mixed race backgrounds".

Peter Schofield, defending, said Hepplewhite claimed he was owed money by the former neighbour and that was "simply" the isssue.

Mr Schofield added; "Racially aggravated offending is not amongst his many previous convictions. He is sensitive to those issues, living in the area of South Shields where he does.

"He finds it very difficult to cope with the fact in any way he would be racially abusive to anyone.

"He is ashamed and makes an apology to the complainant for what happened."

Mr Schofield said despite Hepplewhite's long record, he had been out of trouble since 2013 and found work.