The owner of a Brighton business has been jailed for three years after he attacked three students who were trespassing on his premises.
One of victims suffered a broken eye socket in what a judge said was a nasty attack and a terrifying ordeal involving the use of excessive violence.
Darryl Pledge, the founder and managing director of the Brighton Community Compost Centre, in Stanmer Park, was convicted by a jury of assault causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent.
He was also found guilty of two counts of assault causing actual bodily harm (ABH) at his five-day trial at Brighton Crown Court last month.
Bill Gatward, prosecuting, told Hove Crown Court today (Monday 20 November) that Pledge, 52, used a metal rod, possibly a golf club, to attack two of his victims. It was not self-defence.
Olivia Ham and Isabella Brien were 18 or 19-year-old women who were running away from him when he struck them. Olivia Ham had welts and bruises on her leg.
Pledge, of The Twitten, Southwick, knocked another teenage student, Joseph Read, to the floor and punched him so hard that he left Mr Read with a fractured eye socket.
Mr Gatward said that Pledge had previous convictions for violence including headbutting someone after a crash and punching two people in the face when a removals lorry blocked his path.
The prosecutor cited a probation report saying that the defendant had a propensity to violence, which he had not addressed, and was at risk of committing further violent offences.
William England, defending, said that if Pledge had come across as arrogant and aggressive during his probation interview, that gave a false impression of a caring man and responsible employer.
Mr England said: “Those young students should not have been at that premises. They should not have been crawling around on that expensive equipment.
“He (Pledge) thought that there were burglars on site and it’s the reason he went down there. He was outnumbered.”
There were five students in all and, Mr England said, he did not wish to denigrate the students but they had all been drinking and were clambering on hazardous machinery.
He added: “It was a pitch-black site and a very dangerous site (and) he went over the top. They’d had problems with the likes of burglars down there before.”
Pledge, who runs Sussex Waste Services as well as the Brighton Community Compost Centre, was outnumbered, in the dark and over-reacted, Mr England said.
The barrister told the court that Pledge had the stress of running five businesses and said: “There is a business loan of some £200,000 outstanding so he’s in a substantial hole and that hole will now get bigger because the business will fold.”
Recorder Claire McCann said: “On Saturday 4 December 2021, at around 10pm, the alarm was set off at your place of business within the Stammer Park woods area.
“Five students, including the three victims, Ms Ham, Ms Brien and Mr Read, had got bored and gone out to explore Stanmer Park behind the students’ halls of residence.
“They were only 18 or 19 years old. They happened upon your recycling/logging site and were mucking around when you arrived with one of your business associates. They should not have been there – they were trespassing.
“It was dark. You parked up and ran past the gates and down the hill towards where you saw the students’ torches.
“In my judgment, the evidence showed beyond any reasonable doubt that, when you came across the students, you had a long, thin metal object in your hand, possibly a metal stake or a golf club.
“Your arrival on the scene surprised the students and the two young women (Ms Ham and Ms Brien) screamed and turned and ran.
“You swung at each of them in turn with the metal rod that you had in your hand. You made contact with each of them in turn, on the back of Ms Ham’s leg and on the side of Ms Brien’s.
“The bruising and welt to Ms Ham’s leg was especially bad. You caused ABH to them both and this was not in self-defence.
“You then came upon Mr Read. You subjected him to a nasty attack, whereby you punched him several times in the face, in the process knocking him to the ground.
“You then got on top of Mr Read and held something to his neck which he thought was a knife.
“While your attention was diverted by one of the other students, Mr Read managed to make his escape.
“The injury to Mr Read was so nasty that he had to attend hospital for treatment.
“He sustained a fracture to his left eye socket and suffered swelling to his face and jaw, with bruising, and had difficulty opening his mouth and eating for some weeks.
“Your behaviour shows poor emotional control, use of excessive violence and aggression and a lack of consequential thinking. It is marked by recklessness and risk-taking.
“You attended the police station voluntarily and … you claimed that Joseph Read was the aggressor, that he had attacked you first and that you were acting in reasonable self-defence.
“The jury made it clear by their verdicts that they did not believe you.
“It was clear from their evidence that the students’ ordeal at your hands was terrifying for them. Ms Ham and Ms Brien were clearly still very upset by the events when they gave evidence nearly two years later.
“You have some previous convictions for violent offending against strangers where you have lost control in situations where you feel irritated or wronged.
“These convictions are, however, not especially recent, dating back to 2014 and 2018, but they do show your tendency to resort to violence when stressed or angry.
“As for mitigation, I accept that you were reacting to intruders who had unlawfully come on to your business property and where you were concerned that they might be intent upon stealing or causing criminal damage.
“That provides some mitigation but in no way justifies or excuses your violence that night.”
Recorder McCann added: “I am troubled by your violent reactions to certain situations you have found yourself in.”
She said: “In my view, the circumstances of these offences, involving three different victims, are so serious that only custodial sentences can be justified.
“I do not consider that a community order would provide sufficient punishment … The offences are so serious that neither fines nor community sentences can be justified.”
Pledge was jailed for three years and one month for assault causing GBH with intent – and for four weeks for each of the ABH offences.”
Recorder McCann added: “I have imposed concurrent sentences so the overall sentence is three years and one month. This is the least that can be imposed to mark the seriousness of these three offences.”