Brothers avoid jail after 'sickening' head bashing

The Age

Jane Lee

October 4, 2016

 Two brothers have avoided jail for the "sickening" bashing of a Kenyan man on Chapel Street that continued after the victim became unconscious.

James Bruce and his younger brother Matthew punched and kicked the man while he lay on the ground, breaking some of his teeth and leaving him with cuts and bruises.

James Bruce, one of two brothers who bashed a man outside a Chapel Street nightclub. James Bruce, one of two brothers who bashed a man outside a Chapel Street nightclub. Photo: Jason South

The pair had been drinking with their family in June 2015 to celebrate James' new job when the man confronted them outside Revellers Bar in Prahran. He believed James had racially abused him when he heard him say "my nigger".

James, then 20, later told police he had been singing a song containing the phrase, and the prosecution agreed that it was not racially motivated.

Matthew Bruce also attacked the man, the court heard. Matthew Bruce also attacked the man, the court heard. Photo: Jason South

The brothers followed the man, 33, to a nearby car park, where they continued to argue and began pushing each other. The man struck out with his fist. James retaliated, kicking and punching the man in the head and upper body, despite his older brother Oscar's attempts to stop him. Matthew Bruce, then 19, joined in, kicking the victim in the groin, but later also tried to pull James away from the victim.

James Bruce pleaded guilty to intentionally causing injury and affray over the attack. Matthew Bruce pleaded guilty to affray. Oscar Bruce was not charged

The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard on Monday that the victim had told police a day after the attack that he did not think it was racially motivated. He also told police the pair had "made a stupid decision" and said he did not "want to ruin the rest of (his attackers') life" because of it.

Magistrate Carolene​ Gwynn said she was shocked by CCTV footage of the attack, describing it as "sickening and disturbing" and a "cowardly" attack. She described it as a "savage attack on a defenceless man".

Despite having numerous opportunities to stop, James continued attacking the man, even when he knew his victim was no longer conscious, she said.

However, Ms Gwynn said: "I shouldn't allow myself to be so overwhelmed by that footage given other factors".

But she added the community was also "sick" of seeing young men perpetrating alcohol-fuelled street violence and the impact it had on victims, their families and witnesses.

She sentenced James Bruce to a two-year community corrections order, involving 400 hours of community work, and Matthew Bruce to a 14-month order with 200 hours community work. Both were required to be supervised by Corrections Victoria, and to attend programs aimed at reducing future offending.

The magistrate said that youth support worker Gene Bell had said the pair were each ashamed and remorseful about their behaviour and references from their schools and employers had said the attack was out of character. 

Corrections Victoria also said they posed a "low risk of reoffending".

Earlier, prosecutor Leading Senior Constable Tania Fox told the court that anything less than an immediate jail term for James Bruce would be "manifestly inadequate" given his sustained attack on the unconscious man lasted more than a minute.

James' lawyer Domenic Care unsuccessfully applied to suppress further reporting of the case and publication of the brothers' photos. Mr Care said that four men had attacked his client after publicity about his last court appearance.

Georgina Connelly, for Matthew Bruce said her client feared he would also be attacked in future.

Ms Gwynn refused the application, saying that there was not a sufficient connection between the media coverage and the alleged attack.