THE JUDGE who spared sending a thug to prison for a "cowardly sucker punch" attack has explained why.

Kieran Byrne punched David Harrison to the eye during a late night attack in Crawley.

Mr Harrison said the unprovoked attack was unexpected and gave him no time to prepare or raise his defences.

"It felt like I had been hit with a brick," he said.

But at Lewes Crown Court, His Honour Judge Stephen Mooney explained why Byrne, 19, was not sent to prison.

It was revealed that Byrne had committed a similar offence of inflicting grievous bodily harm when he was aged 16, and has a penchant for mixed martial arts.

His defence barrister Kyri Argyropolous said Byrne has made efforts to turn his life around, and said sending the thug to prison would be "potentially catastrophic".

The incident happened in Crawley Town Centre

The Judge told Byrne: “You seriously affected the lives of three innocent people with this brutal and uncalled for aggression.

“It seems you have an interest in mixed martial arts, that potentially contributed to the serious injury on this occasion.

"The fact is I don’t really care. You chose to use extreme violence on innocent people.

“You were part of an assault on a gentleman who lost his tooth in a group attack that you all bear responsibility for.

“Another man walking along was doing his best to calm things down, and you subjected him to a cowardly and vicious assault. He could have died. He was attacked when he was not expecting it.”

The judge said work would need to be done to stop Byrne, of Shaws Road, Crawley, turning to violence in an “explosive way”.

Judge Mooney said there is a programme to work with Byrne, but also asked: “Would the public be appalled if I didn’t impose an immediate prison sentence?

“There is an extremely compelling argument that that is the approach I should adopt.

“But without addressing your use of explosive violence, would I instead be storing up a problem for a future judge?

“It seems that whatever the public reaction is, I have to take a longer term view.”

Lewes Crown Court.

Lewes Crown Court.

Byrne was told to complete the Resolve anger management programme, 30 rehabilitation sessions with the probation service, and complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

He was given a one-year suspended prison sentence, which was shorter because of his age at the time of the attack in January 2020.

The judge said: "If you breach this order, and don't put your back into it, or commit any further offences, you will go to prison.

"You have got to grow up and you have got to do it fast."