Three inmates involved in a pre-planned assault on an older prisoner who was accused of bullying behaviour will each now serve longer stretches behind bars.

The victim was playing pool during a recreation period in an association area on B-wing at HMP & YOI Deerbolt, near Barnard Castle, when the sudden attack took place, at 6.25pm on January 17, last year.

Durham Crown Court was told up to seven inmates were involved in the group attack, but only three of those were present for the scheduled sentencing hearing, all via video links from different custodial establishments where they are now held.

Ethan Burke, 22, and 21-year-old Ellis Salisbury previously admitted the joint charge of violent disorder.

Thomas Nicholson, 28, admitted the same joint charge at yesterday’s (Monday March 11) sentencing hearing.

All the defendants were described as of no fixed address, but Burke is from Teesside and Nicholson is from the Newcastle area.

Four other accused are to be sentenced at hearings at the court in the next few weeks.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Dr Chris Wood said as the victim was about to play a shot on the pool table Burke hit him over the head with a plastic cup, which was not a very strong blow, but which appeared to be the signal for others to become involved.

He was knocked to the floor by one blow and he was stamped on but managed to regain his footing before others approached and joined in, in what Dr Wood described as a prolonged attack with the various co-accused inmates playing either a greater or lesser role “to a degree”.

Dr Wood said Burke appeared to slam the pool table down hard on the victim at one stage while he was on the floor as well as delivering a flurry of punches, despite efforts to restrain him by other inmates, before prison officers intervened and brought the incident to an end.

During the outburst of violence Nicholson played no part initially but then “weighed in”, as did Salisbury, with each of their roles since pinpointed on CCTV footage from the association area.

When all of those involved were interviewed about their respective roles, another defendant told investigators the victim was targeted for, “bullying vulnerable kids”.

Burke, was said to have six convictions for 11 offences and at the time of the incident was serving 30-months for a class A drug offence and five years for possession of a handgun, imposed at Teesside Crown Court, in 2021.

Nicholson, has three convictions for three offences, but was serving a sentence of five years and ten months at the time, imposed at Newcastle Crown Court, for wounding with intent, in March 2022.

Salisbury has 15 convictions for 41 offences including common assault, public order matters and aggravated burglary.

Dr Wood said the culpability of those involved was raised as it was, “a targeted attack on an individual by a group, causing serious disruption to good order in a prison establishment”.

He said the injured party chose not to provide a victim statement and highlighted no specific injury or injuries.

Simon Walker, for Burke, said having studied the CCTV footage closely, he accepts his client made the initial approach behind the victim as he was playing pool, but he questioned whether he began the violence, over and above breaking the plastic cup over his head.

“I don’t think it’s clear that my client caused it to begin.

“For his part, he simply said: ‘I got involved and shouldn’t have done. It wasn’t my fight.’

“Things went too far and it escalated very quickly.”

Mr Walker said the defendant was released from his previous sentence in May, 2023, but has since been recalled to prison for failure to co-operate with the licence conditions.

His parole hearing has been pushed back due to this case, delaying his eventual release, despite this being the only trouble he has been involved in, during his time in prison.

Mr Walker added that Burke’s licence expiry date is not now until October 2025.

Jonathan Pigford, for Nicholson, said he was not part of any plan to target the victim of the attack, and, so, in his case there was, “a degree of spontaneity” before he became involved more than 30 seconds into the incident.

Mr Pigford said even then the defendant’s involvement only lasted a few seconds.

“He became involved out of his misguided loyalty to other prisoners he was friendly with, and, when he did, he was pushed away by a member of staff and then desisted from any further behaviour.”

Mr Pigford added that Nicholson spent a week in the isolation wing and suffered three weeks’ loss of privileges.

He has since crossed paths in prison with the victim of the attack and apologised.

Chris Jeyes, for Salisbury, said he was one of the last of the group of inmates to get involved and maintains he spent some time trying to hold others back.

Addressing Judge Nathan Adams, Mr Jeyes said: “Of course, it’s not very conducive to maintaining good order and discipline within the prison, but your honour has no evidence of any injury, whatsoever.”

Mr Jeyes added that Salisbury has since been released from the sentence he was serving, but, after a short period of liberty, has been recalled to prison, partly due to a new charge he is facing in Norwich, and his earliest release date is not until May next year.

Judge Adams said, having viewed the CCTV of the incident, “what was a profoundly calm situation turned otherwise, firstly with the actions of Burke, either tapping him on the head or hitting him with the cup.

“Whatever the purpose, others gathered around and he was knocked to the floor.

“It was a serious incident with those involved pushing others out of the way to get involved.”

Burke received a 22-month prison sentence, while Nicholson and Salisbury received 20 months each.

Both Burke and Salisbury’s sentences begin immediately, but Nicholson’s is consecutive to the sentence he is now serving.

The remaining four defendants involved in the incident will each be sentenced at hearings in coming weeks.