A MAN who beat his girlfriend around the head as a woman and her child looked on has walked out of court with no punishment.

Royston Morris, 47, of no fixed abode, appeared at Swindon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday having pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating and another of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to those in the vicinity.

The court heard that on September 16, Morris grabbed his crying girlfriend by the neck and forced her to her knees not far from the children’s play area in Faringdon Park.

He was verbally abusive and was seen by a witness to smack his victim around the head and slap her in the face.

The onlooker, who was at the park with her young child, was too distressed to intervene and phoned the police.

Terry McCarthy, defending, said Morris and his girlfriend both had their own difficulties relating to crack cocaine, alcohol and a lack of accommodation.

“They were in the park that day and there was some sort of argument,” he told the court. “Mr Morris wanted to go, he wanted to go with his jacket that she was wearing.

“When he tried to take it off her she refused and there was a struggle. He accepts that other people in the park would have been affected by what happened.”

A probation officer who had interviewed Morris ahead of the hearing told the magistrates that it was not his first incident of domestic violence.

She said that during their conversation he tended to focus on his victim’s behaviour, rather than acknowledging that his own response was unacceptable.

Assessing the victim as a vulnerable person, the probation officer determined that Morris posed “a medium risk of causing serious harm to this victim, to future partners and to the children of future partners.”

Despite this, the magistrates were asked to sentence Morris to a community order.

Community orders mean that for a defined period of time, the offender is under the supervision of the probation service and assigned courses to undertake to deal with issues relating to their offending.

In Morris’ case, the bench imposed a community order of 24 months to include a drug rehab programme and a course aimed at helping him to “build better relationships”.

However alongside these courses, community orders must - according to the Crime and Courts Act 2013 - include a punitive element unless there are “exceptional circumstances” meaning that is not possible.

Punitive elements can include a fine, unpaid work in the community or a curfew. They could also be delivered in the form of a suspended sentence order, instead of a community order, if the court was minded to consider custody as an option.

No exceptional circumstances were presented in Morris’ case, yet the magistrates decided not to include any punishment as part of the sentence.

The chairman of the bench, Martin Smith, told Morris: “Clearly, you need some assistance. But unfortunately, there also has to be some punishment for you for what you have done.”

When approached by the Adver at the conclusion of the hearing, court staff confirmed that there was no punitive element as part of the sentence.

When asked to outline what the exceptional circumstances were that meant they could take that course of action, the explanation provided was that as a crack user and alcoholic of no fixed abode, Morris was not suited to any of the methods of punishment available.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "We do not comment on individual cases.

"Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary taking into account all facts of the case.

"The Sentencing Council’s imposition guideline draws sentencers’ attention to the statutory position and notes that save in exceptional circumstances at least one requirement must be imposed for the purpose of punishment and/or a fine imposed in addition to the community order. 

"The guideline also notes that it is a matter for the court to decide which requirements amount to a punishment in each case.

"Requirements may have more than one purpose, and a requirement whose primary purpose is to address a factor which causes offending behaviour, may also restrict the offender’s liberty and amount to punishment."