'Raging bull' thug who left cyclist in coma is jailed
South Shields Velo Cycling Club member and Nissan worker Steve Willey almost died after he was knocked unconscious by Nicholas Graham while waiting at a bust stop with his wife on December 23 last year.
The 46-year-old's heartbroken family are still uncertain what the final outcome of the shocking, unprovoked, one-punch attack will be.
He suffered brain injury and a fractured skull as a result of the forceful punch and required two emergency operations.
Newcastle Crown Court heard Mr Willey had collected his wife Paula from her work Christmas party in Newcastle on December 23 to ensure she got home safely.
After stopping off for a coffee together and while they waited for their bus home to Washington, Mr Willey was deliberately bumped into by Graham, who had been arguing in the street with a former girlfriend, who already had a restraining order against him.
The court heard Graham, who appeared to be "looking for trouble", shouted that Mr Willey should "watch where he was going".
When Mr Willey pointed out that he had done nothing wrong, Graham dropped the shopping he was carrying and charged towards him like a "raging bull".
Kevin Wardlaw, prosecuting, told the court Mrs Willey had tried to step between the two men in an attempt to stop any trouble.
But Mr Wardlaw added: "He pushed past her and struck him once to the face, causing him to fall back and strike his head on the pavement.
"Such was the force of the blow, it appears Mr Willey was unconscious before he struck the pavement.
"Witnesses describe him falling like a tree. One witness said it was like something you see on TV.
"Such was the force of the blow, everyone standing nearby jumped.
"Witnesses describe him charging towards him like a raging bull and describe hearing a loud crack as the skull of Mr Willey struck the pavement.
"It was apparent to all those present he was seriously injured."
The court heard how after he inflicted the life changing blow, Graham simply walked off with his ex-girlfriend, and got in a taxi.
Mr Willey was taken to hospital for life-saving treatment and has not regained consciousness since.
Maintenance engineer Graham, 26, of Belsay Gardens, Newcastle, pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm and breaching the restraining order to stay away from the former girlfriend.
He was also in breach of previously imposed community orders.
At Newcastle Crown Court Judge Paul Sloan QC jailed him for a total of three-and-a-half years.
The judge told him: "At the time Mr Willey was simply standing with his hands down by his sides.
"It would seem the blow rendered him immediately unconscious, he fell straight back, did nothing to break his fall and hit his head on the pavement with a crack.
"You then simply walked off, leaving Mr Willey lying on the ground, clearly unconscious, clearly badly injured.
"Mrs Willey is doing what she can to cope with a living nightmare for her and her family as well as Mr Willey's family.
"Her statement makes clear the trauma she suffered and continues to suffer as a result of your thuggery."
In her victim statement, Mrs Willey said she constantly questions why she didn't just drive home that night, why she didn't stay in town to finish her Christmas shopping or have an extra drink with her husband and feels "if only".
Mrs Willey heard the "horrific crack" of her husband's head hitting the ground and saw him gasping for breath as he lay on the ground.
She said: "It will haunt me for the rest of my life.
"The image will live with me forever. It is all I can see when I close my eyes."
Mrs Willey said it is unclear how long her husband will stay in a coma, whether he will be paralysed, if his speech will be effected or what other disabilities he may be left with.
She added: "This won't be confirmed until he wakes up and the extent of the damage to his brain can be assessed.
"No-one can tell us how long this will take as every case is different.
"It is hard to see him unconscious, day after day. Every day I pray his eyes will open.
"Each day is a never ending, emotional rollercoaster.
"As long as he comes back to us, that is all that matter. We will all be here to support him.
"I wish people would realise the implications one punch can have.
"Steve and I have been together for 28 years, we were childhood sweethearts. I miss him so much.
"Walking through the front door and not seeing his smiling face, giving me a cuddle and telling me he loves me is devastating."
Mrs Willey said she still sends texts to her husbands phone and knowing he can't send her one back is "soul destroying".
Jonathan Cousins, mitigating, said Graham had "no intention whatsoever" of causing the level of injury he did and feels real remorse.
He added: "It is something that will stay with him long after the sentence imposed today has expired.
"It is something he will live with for the rest of his life."