A drunken thug who launched a 'disgusting' attack on a taxi driver during a row about the fare has walked free from court.
Jermaine Preston, 41, punched, kicked and stamped on his victim - but he was spared jail by a judge who said prison would have a 'potentially harmful impact' on the defendant's five children.
Preston had been partying in Manchester city centre when he booked a taxi from Mainline private hire with his partner and another female friend at 6.30am on September 4 to take him back to his home in Radcliffe.
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Seated in the front passenger seat, Preston, who was drunk and high, was 'repeatedly' told he could not smoke but the driver allowed him to vape, prosecutor Philip Hall told Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday afternoon.
The defendant agreed there would be an additional fare to drop off one of his female companions first but she had 'mistakenly believed' the driver had simply demanded more money and became 'aggressive', the court was told.
When the driver stopped his car and demanded his passengers calm down, Preston launched the first of two violent assaults, repeatedly punching his victim who could do little to protect himself as he was strapped into his seat.
The driver released the buckle and fled only for Preston to chase him down and punch him to the back of the head until he fell to the ground.
While prone, the driver later told police his assailant repeatedly kicked him 'like a football' to his face, head and body. He also stamped on his victim.
Laying face down on the ground, Preston knelt on his victim's back and rained more punches to the back of the driver's head, said Mr Hall.
Preston then walked back to the taxi and began to search it for valuables - it was as the search continued that the driver walked back to his vehicle and the second wave of the attack began.
Preston punched his victim to the floor once more and 'straddled him once again' as he aimed more punches to the head, the court was told. It was during this second exchange that Preston himself suffered an injury which left blood come from a head wound.
The court heard a resident was woken by the taxi driver 'screaming for help', said Mr Hall. The resident later told police the victim looked 'really scared' as he was being pursued.
The householder said she saw Preston repeatedly kicking the taxi driver to the stomach while he was on the ground and was 'surprised' the victim managed to get up. The witness told detectives the attack was 'horrendous and disgusting to watch'.
Police were called and arrested Preston at the scene. He told officers he had been attacked first. He handed the driver's phone which he had stolen to officers and later, while being treated for his own injuries in hospital, he was also found to have the driver's wallet, bank card and £45 cash.
When interviewed, Preston told police he had taken the items 'out of frustration' and had intended to throw them away but had 'forgotten'.
'I've never experienced such fear and violence'
The driver was taken by ambulance to hospital were he was treated for bruises and soreness to his head and body. A CT scan showed no serious damage and he was discharged later that day.
In a victim personal statement read out in court, the driver said: "I've been a taxi driver for four years. I've never experienced such fear and violence in my place of work before."
He said he accepted 'a clear risk' picking up fares who were drunk or high on drugs. "However, when I come to work I do not expect to be put in fear of my life and losing my livelihood." He said he felt he had to 'lie' to his family to play the attack down and branded it a 'disgusting crime'.
The court heard Preston had 13 sets of convictions for 28 offences including including drink-driving and assault.
Ronan Maguire, defending, said at first his client had been the 'peacemaker' but was 'entirely to blame' for the violence which followed. He said his client had faced 'very difficult circumstances' in his home life following the death of his mother and then his nephew around the time of the assault.
Preston himself had been 'struck to the head' during the incident although this was 'perhaps understandable in the circumstances', said Mr Maguire. The barrister said it had been his client's first criminal conviction since 2013 as he urged the judge to suspend any prison sentence.
Mr Maguire said his client was 'heavily involved' in the care of his five children. "There's no question that were he not present that would have a significant impact upon them," he said.
Judge Timothy Smith told the defendant: "No taxi driver performing the service they do for those requiring journeys into and out of Manchester deserves to be treated in this way. They are providing a public service to you and others and to that extent they need to be protected from those who would threaten violence on them."
But the judge noted that his last previous conviction was when he was 'considerably younger' and he had showed previously he could 'keep out of trouble'.
He said the crime was aggravated by his 'drinking to excess' and 'substance abuse' on the night. But he said 'on balance' an immediate term of imprisonment was not required, noting the defendant had a number of children living in 'somewhat difficult circumstances'.
"I'm satisfied that the imposition of an immediate custodial sentence would have an immediate and potentially harmful upon them," said Judge Smith.
Preston, of Hawthorn Avenue in Radcliffe, showed no reaction as he was handed a 16 month prison sentence suspended for 18 months. He had earlier admitted assault and theft.
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