A SON who repeatedly punched a female neighbour during a violent incident at a New Year’s Day gathering in Carlisle was defending his mother, a court heard.

Former offender Gavin Johnston, 37, was last year found guilty of an actual bodily harm assault on the woman, but after a three-hour appeal at the city’s crown court he overturned the conviction.

Despite being legally unrepresented, and bluntly describing himself in court as a former “scumbag,” Mr Johnston persuaded a judge and two magistrates that the conviction, which followed a trial at the city's magistrates' court, should not stand.

The hearing began with barrister Ben Stanley outlining the prosecution case and taking evidence from the alleged victim Laura Deasey.

She told the court she and her partner left their house in Tramside Way to watch the New Year’s morning fireworks on January 1, 2022. While there, she said, Mr Johnston’s mother Angela Thompson laughed at them and said something like “I’m going to lay you down.”

There were about ten people outside the house at the time, many of them teenagers who had also gathered to watch the fireworks.

When she walked towards Mr Johnston’s mother, one of the teenagers pushed her, she said, and another tried to start on her partner. “It sort of escalated from there,” she said.

Ms Deasey said Angela Thompson then grabbed her hair and pulled her from behind. She said she tried to grab the other woman's hair "to get her off me."

“I was on the floor and Angela let go,” she said. It was at this stage, she said, that Gavin Johnston started punching her “multiple times.” It was only after she viewed the house CCTV that she became aware of who it was who had punched her, she said.

Ms Deasey added: “We’ve had trouble on both sides with the neighbours for quite a lot years.” Questioned by court-appointed advocate Sean Harkin, Ms Deasey denied that she had lost her temper but added: “I was fed up with them.”

She accepted that after the incident somebody had taken a weapon – described in court as a “battle-axe” or a "coppicing axe" - to her house but she did not know about this until after it had happened.

During the alleged assault, she suffered a crescent shaped cut to her forehead.

In his evidence, Mr Johnston said: “Angela Thompson is my mum and I love her. She’s a poorly woman and had a severe back injury… She’s a bit of a loudmouth but she did bring up nine kids, and did a good job, to be honest.”

Recalling the incident, he said the first he knew was when he was in his mother’s home and heard a loud scream.

He had "instinctively" run outside and, referring to the video footage of the earlier part of the incident, he described how Miss Deasey had first pushed him and then hit him a number of times.

“It happened in a split second,” he said. “I absorbed the punches, accepting the impact but there is no question I was in pain.”

He then described the next part of the video, in which Miss Deasey was seen approaching a group further along her driveway, when he saw her holding on his mother’s hair. “I was going to split this up, no matter what it takes,” he said.

“I was genuinely concerned someone might get stabbed.” He said there was no reason to believe his mother was the "aggressor.”

Accepting that he had previously been a “scumbag,” having been to prison and prosecuted for assaults, Mr Johnston said he had been marked from day one, but he had attempted to "break the chain", gaining professional qualifications.

“I have 21 convictions, five of which I should not have got… But I was trying to de-escalate and get them off my mum and in their home. My intention was to stop the fight.”

Upholding the appeal – against both conviction and sentence – Judge Michael Fanning told Mr Johnston that he and his colleagues could not be certain that he had caused the facial injury suffered by Ms Deasey.

He said the evidence showed that Mr Johnston did not react when Ms Deasey had, from his point of view, assaulted him.

But he had then seen his mother and Ms Deasey go to the floor and could not have known who took who to the floor. "You thought you were acting to defend your mother," said the judge.

The court accepted he had acted to defend his mother, pulling Laura Deasey away so that she released Mrs Thompson’s hair and ceasing the violence as soon as that was achieved. “Therefore, as a matter of record, you are not guilty,” concluded the judge.

Mr Johnston, who formerly lived at Tramside Way, Carlisle, will get a full refund of his legal costs and the £200 compensation he was originally ordered to pay to Ms Deasey.