A white woman who struck a 12-year-old black boy on the forehead with a large paddle at a Bristol riverside park, leaving him permanently scarred, has been given a suspended jail sentence.
The police were strongly criticised over the attack by Fay Johnson on Antwon Forrest, because she was initially not prosecuted after claiming she acted in self-defence and felt “threatened” by the youngster.
It was only when campaigners and relatives posted images of Antwon’s bleeding head on social media, questioned why Johnson clashed with him rather than his white friends, and argued that the police’s response was poor because of the boy’s race, that Avon and Somerset police began a review and apologised.
Sitting at Bristol crown court, Judge Edward Burgess, ruled the attack with the seven-foot-long (2-metre) paddle was not racially motivated.
He told Johnson: “You struck him in the forehead with a paddle causing a nasty injury, which bled heavily at the time and has left a visible scar. Every time he looks in the mirror as he grows up, throughout his life, it will be a constant reminder of what you did to him.”
The judge added: “I am satisfied it was not in any way racially motivated. I accept this was an impulsive act of violence.”
He said the prison sentence of four months for assault causing actual bodily harm could be suspended given Johnson’s previous good character, her remorse, her personal circumstances and that she had “already suffered significantly”. Johnson, 32, was also ordered to pay £500 compensation to Antwon, who is now 13.
Speaking outside court, Antwon’s grandmother Tania Palmer and aunt Antonia Forrest said they did not want Johnson to go to prison but were surprised the sentence had not been longer.
They expressed concern about death threats Johnson and her family had received and Antonia Forrest said her nephew had been left “traumatised and terrified”.
Avon and Somerset police accepted its initial response had been poor.
Ch Insp Mike Buck said: “We’ve identified a number of learnings as a result of this case, including the fact the family should have been offered a right to review following the initial decision. We recognise the strength of community concern following the initial outcome of this case and the perception that Antwon was treated differently because of his race.
“While we’ve found no evidence to suggest race played any part in the police decision to take no further action, we’ve listened deeply to the concerns and issues raised by the victim’s family and the wider community, and we’ll use the lessons from this investigation in the ongoing work we are doing under the national race action plan.”
The court heard Antwon was part of a group of up to 30 children at the park, while Johnson was paddleboarding on the river with three children.
Some of the children were throwing balls of mud and rocks at those passing on the river, with these hitting boats, canoes and paddleboards. There is no evidence Antwon did this, the court heard.
Ehsanul Oarith, prosecuting, said an “agitated and visibly angry” Johnson confronted the group of children after her paddleboard was hit.
“She was up against Antwon Forrest, they were both making comments towards each other,” Oarith told the court.
“A witness saw them push each other, following which the defendant used the paddle in her hand to hit Antwon Forrest. She had clearly lost it, she was very, very angry at the time.”
Representing Johnson, who wept throughout the hearing, Emma Martin described her client as a devoted mother and stepmother who was “ashamed, desperately embarrassed and remorseful”.
Martin said Johnson’s “protective maternal instinct spilt over into rage” after her daughter was hit by one of the rocks being thrown by some of the children.
The barrister stressed there were no racial undertones to the attack and said that in the aftermath of the incident, Johnson and her family received abuse including death threats. They have had to move house and she has changed jobs.