Students walk free after legal mix-up

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Two ‘reprehensible’ students locked up following a fight outside a Sheffield nightclub have been freed after top judges heard of a sentencing mix-up.

Sheffield Hallam University students David Albert Thompson and James Alexander Lambert were given custodial sentences for assaulting Matthew Burtenshaw in a brawl outside the Plug last October.

Thompson, aged 21, had been ordered to serve 16 months in a young offenders’ institution after he admitted assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Lambert, also 21, was handed an eight-month prison term for unlawful wounding.

But two senior judges sitting at London’s Royal Courts of Justice freed both men after finding the judge at Sheffield Crown Court in August got mixed up and swapped the sentencing guidelines applicable to each man.

Mrs Justice Sharp told the court the two quantity surveying students were out celebrating Thompson’s 20th birthday last October 21 when a row between the pair and a friend of Mr Burtenshaw broke out in the club. The fight spilled onto the street and in the melee Lambert punched Mr Burtenshaw above the eye, before Thompson bit him during a scuffle on the ground.

The judge said both men, who had never been in trouble before, were working at surveying placements at the time and had a number of references testifying to their good character.

When the Sheffield judge came to punish them, he mistakenly used the sentencing guidelines for wounding for Thompson, and applied the ABH guidelines to Lambert’s case, the court heard.

Mrs Justice Sharp said: “It is clear from the judge’s remarks that he applied the wrong sentencing guidelines to each offender.”

The appeal judges also ruled both sentences were excessive because not enough consideration was given to community punishments.

Thompson and Lambert will return to their parents and were each given 12-month community sentences, involving six months of reporting to the local probation service.