A GROUP of young men enjoying a night out in Oxford were beaten and whipped with a belt buckle in a vicious homophobic attack which left one cut to the skull.

Police who arrived at the scene, in George Street, were said to be ‘visibly shocked’ by the attack, which left one of the victims needing hospital treatment.

Former Oxford student Thomas Barnett, was out with two friends, who have asked to remain anonymous, when they were set upon by thugs in the early hours of Sunday of last week.

The attack took place at 3.45am after the group, who all identify as LGBT, left Plush and were heading home.

The group separated at the end of Cornmarket, where one of Mr Barnett’s friends made his way down George Street. Mr Barnett and his second friend walked down Broad Street.

Oxford Mail: George Street in Oxford where the attack took place (Ed Nix)George Street in Oxford where the attack took place (Ed Nix)

A few minutes later, Mr Barnett and the second friend turned around and also made their way down George Street and noticed a ‘commotion’ on the other side of the road, and realised their friend was involved.

He said: “My friend was heckled by a group of four men as he was walking down the street saying ‘Oi, baldy’. It was fairly innocuous stuff at first.”

The first victim told Mr Barnett that when he did not respond to the group, they shouted a vile homophobic slur. When he turned to confront them, he was punched in the eye.

Mr Barnett, who now lives in London, said: “Before I knew what had happened one of the assailants had pulled off his belt, which was leather with a metal buckle, and was using it as a weapon.

“First he lashed us across the body with the folded leather strap, and then used the buckle end of the belt as a whip, striking with unrestrained force.”

The attacker then struck the second friend with the belt, leaving a deep gash across his head which cut to the bone.

Mr Barnett said: “The assailants only relented and fled when they panicked at the appalling sight of the torrent of blood pouring from the wound, filling my friend’s eyes and covering his face and body.”

Mr Barnett ran to find a police car he had seen earlier and soon a number of officers were on the scene.

He said: “Most of the officers were visibly shocked at the nature and violence of what of what had happened.

“One officer said to us that at one point he had to go and sit in his car on his own for a moment to pull himself together.”

The victim of the belt attack was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital by ambulance and spent four hours receiving treatment for his head injury, which needed to be treated with surgical glue.

Mr Barnett and his other friend also received injuries to their heads, stomach and arms but did not require hospital treatment.

Mr Barnett said that after they put their friend in an ambulance, they both felt ‘floored’ by what had happened.

He said: “It was this really strange thing of feeling completely numb and then this wave of overwhelming emotion and proper ugly, snotty crying.”

All three men remain shaken by the event and are still in shock.

The attack comes as LGBTQ+ hate crimes in Oxford and the wider Thames Valley region are on the rise.

In Oxford, rolling 12-month data from Thames Valley Police, recorded between August 2020 and July 2021, showed homophobic incidents were up by 50 per cent while transphobic incidents doubled.

READ MORE: LGBTQ+ hate crime increased in Oxford in last year

Mr Barnett chose to come forward with their story to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ hate crime in Oxford and the wider UK.

He said: “Public, premeditated, homophobic violence still happens today. It will continue to happen as long we continue to give the embers of hatred and prejudice the oxygen to stay alight in our society. These embers will not be extinguished solely by the passing of time.

“Attacks like this will continue to happen as long as any of you remain passive, tolerant or oblivious to the latent toxicity that mutates into violence and hatred.”

An 18-year-old man from Kidlington was arrested on suspicion of assault and affray.

Investigating officer PC Eleanor Middlemass said: “We are appealing to anyone who may have seen the men on George Street on Sunday morning, or anyone with footage, whether that be from CCTV, dashcam or doorbell camera to contact the force.

“The easiest way to contact the force is via our website or by calling 101 or online, quoting investigation reference 43210422073.

“You can also call the independent charity Crimestoppers 100 per cent anonymously on 0800 555 111.”