Watch shocking footage as rough sleeper set on fire in sickening South Shields churchyard attack
WARNING: Contains footage some people may find distressing.
A rough sleeper was "tortured" during a four-hour churchyard assault where he was repeatedly set on fire, hit with a crutch and had bottles thrown at him by a laughing attacker.
The victim, who is blind in one eye, has an alcohol problem and a mental health disorder was sleeping on a bench near St Hilda's church in South Shields in the early hours of July 9 last year when he was targeted.The 59-year-old was "bloodied and burned" and had been drawn on with a pen when he was found in the church grounds by the vicar the next morning.He had full thickness burns to parts of his body, which will leave lifelong scars, where he, and the blanket and sleeping bag he had been using for warmth, were set on fire around 25 times by Khaled Hassan.Newcastle Crown Court heard Hassan, 43, and his pal Mark Liddle, 51, had pulled the victim's blanket over his head to disorientate him when they saw him sleeping on a bench in the church grounds at just after 6am that morning.The pair rifled through the man's pockets looking for property to steal before Liddle left the grounds and Hassan launched the horror attack, which was caught on CCTV. Northumbria Police later released footage of the shocking attack after the court case.Prosecutor Emma Atkinson told the court: "He set fire to the sleeping bag that was on the man. Smoke was seen coming from it."No-one went to his aid."The court heard other men on benches around the churchyard had tried to step in and help the stricken victim as the violence progressed but were kept back by Hassan, who continued to set the man and his belongings on fire.Miss Atkinson added: "He tried to set fire to the blanket, which was now covering the man's head. Smoke can be seen coming from the blanket."Mr Hassan was laughing on a number of occasions for his actions."He then set fire to the blanket around the man's stomach area and near his head."On more than one occasion he tried to set fire to the man's hair. He also tried to set fire to his eyebrows."At one point, Mr Hassan took a pen to the man's face, again, at that time, laughing."The court heard as the violence continued, Hassan continued to burn the victim, using the lighter, until smoke and flames could be seen, poured liquid over him, repeatedly drew on his face, hit him with a crutch and threw bottles at him.Miss Atkinson said the victim slept through the early part of the attack and remembers very little about it.He had tried to get up during the attack but Miss Atkinson added: "He struggled and fell to the floor next to the bench he had been laid on."The court heard it was after 10am when the vicar of the church found the victim "covered in blood" and alerted the emergency services.Hassan, who had been taking drink and drugs, was arrested and said he had "no recollection of what he did and certainly no explanation for it".Hassan, of Beach Road, South Shields, admitted attempted theft and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.Judge Tim Gittins sentenced him to nine-and-a-half years behind bars with a ten-year restraining order to keep him away from the victim in future.The judge told him: "Fortunately, somewhat horrifically, your actions were caught on CCTV footage recordings that extended over a period of nearly four hours."The one fortunate thing to come from this incident is he has little recollection of the actual events although clearly he will bear the scars and feel the pain of the consequences for a considerable period of time."He is scarred for life."Judge Gittins said the attempted theft from the man's pockets was just the start of his torment and told Hassan: "You proceeded, over the next three-and-a-half hours or so, to degrade and humiliate him, to assault him repeatedly and effectively torture him , principally with fire, for no other purpose, it would seem, than that you could, because of his inability to respond or defend himself and for apparent laughs, as you are seen thinking that this behaviour towards him was humorous from start to finish."You were laughing towards others who were slow or incapable to intervene in your cruelty."Judge Gittins said the footage shows Hassan use the lighter to set fire or attempt to set fire to the man or his bedding a total of 25 times during the attack.The judge told him: "It could so easily have been fatal, had his clothing not been so fire resistant or shock not have been lessened buy the intoxicants he had taken."Glen Gatland, defending, said Hassan has drug, alcohol and mental health problems and had written a heartfelt letter to the court.Mr Gatland read an extract of the letter, in which Hassan said he was "truly shocked" by his own behaviour, which said; "The gentleman I hurt doesn't deserve what happened to him."I can only wish he has made a good recovery and is back to living his normal life."Hassan said he is now tormented by nightmares and dreams where he is repeatedly apologising to the victim.Liddle, of Beach Road, South Shields, admitted attempted theft and two malicious communications charges in relation to abusive text messages, unrelated to this case.He was sentenced to seven months imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 100 hours unpaid work and a six month, night time, curfew.Peter Shofield, defending, said Liddle has sought help with his problems and has taken steps to improve his future and stay away from trouble.