A JUDGE has admitted taking “an exceptional course” in not sending three vigilante attackers to jail.

Grace Steele, Liam Garvey and Joseph Curran walked free from court despite being convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent – a charge which can lead to life imprisonment.

Judge Christopher Compston said the trio lured Thomas West to a Wallingford car park before attacking him with a metal ratchet after their victim had robbed an autistic man in the town.

Last September, the judge deferred sentencing of the three defendants for six months and said he would not jail them if they raised £500 each in compensation.

At Oxford Crown Court on Monday he kept his word.

He said 18-year-old Steele, of Didcot Road, Long Wittenham, had been “the honeypot” in luring Mr West to a car park at the Hithercroft Industrial Estate at 7pm on December 10, 2009.

Curran and Garvey, both 20, then set upon their victim, with the latter striking Mr West across the face with a ratchet and Curran punching and kicking him.

Mr West needed surgery to a fractured eye socket.

Steele and Garvey, of Cherwell Road, Berinsfield, admitted the charge while Curran, of Ford Lane, Drayton St Leonard, was convicted by a jury.

Mr West has six convictions for 20 offences. His attackers had none.

Jennifer Edwards, defending Garvey, said her client “has always said the only reason this activity got under way was to teach him a lesson for Mr West’s bad behaviour, when he beat up somebody who was unable to stand up for himself”.

Joanne Sear, defending Steele, said: “Her actions that day were completely out of character. She did not know precisely what was going to take place and in particular she did not know that weapons were going to be used.”

James Reilly, defending Curran, said: “He does not regard that sort of behaviour as right in any way, nobody does, but all you can say is this is very much out of character.”

Judge Compston initially gave Steele and Garvey 18-month prison sentences, suspended for two years, and Curran a two-year suspended sentence, but had to be reminded that only jail terms of 12 months or less can be suspended.

He then gave each a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered Curran and Garvey do 200 hours’ community work and Steele do 100 hours. All three paid £500 compensation each.

Judge Compston said: “There is no question at all as far the guidelines are concerned you should be going to prison, and for quite a long time, I’m absolutely aware of that.

“But equally I make it quite clear I’m going to take an exceptional course. The main reason is the background.”

He said Mr West had committed “a most horrific attack” but told the trio: “You were utterly and completely wrong for taking the law into your own hands.

“To send you to prison you will only come out worse, not better.”

Prosecutor John Upton said an appeal against the sentence was “always possible”, but a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said last night the case had yet to be looked at.

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