TWO teenagers came “within a whisker” of imprisonment after pleading guilty to attacking a “vulnerable man” who was left with a badly broken arm.

The 16 and 15 year olds, who cannot legally be named, were back before magistrates in St Helens to face sentence.

Both had admitted attacking the man on Bridge Street in April, striking him on the head as they cycled past. He was knocked to the floor and fell against railings, breaking his arm.

Three pins and a metal rod were inserted into his arm following surgery.

After CCTV images of the pair were published on the Star’s website they handed themselves into police.

The court heard how the man, who has problems with communication, had walked past a group of youths as he made his way home.

He ignored comments made by the gang as he walked by then felt two blows to his head.

Solicitor Frank Roe defending said: “The pair didn’t know what had happened until it went ‘viral’, for want of a better word. It appeared to be all over the place.

“There was genuine remorse. It was a clear case of not understanding the consequences of their actions.”

Mr Roe described it as a “seminal lesson” in how not to live their lives and how the “consequences of your actions could be far beyond what you originally thought might happen.”

“This was stupid, not malicious,” he said. “I think they will go away from here and you won’t see them in a court in the future.”

He said that sending them into custody would “brutalise” them.

Magistrates told the boys: "This victim will want to know and be satisfied that justice has been done."

Both were given a 12 month referral order, which means they will have the opportunity to address their offending behaviour.

They were also both fined £265 which will be paid by their parents or guardian.