A DAD who turned to drink after his son received a tragic medical diagnosis has been jailed for his part in a “sickening” attack on a homeless man.

CCTV footage played to Liverpool Crown Court showed defendants Zach Dowling and Liam Porter launching the “unprovoked” assault on their vulnerable victim in the street in St Helens town centre.

Judge Mr Recorder Michael Blakey branded the assault, which happened on Church Street shortly after 6am on June 23 last year, as one of “gratuitous” violence.

Dowling, 27, had been convicted of assault causing actual bodily harm (ABH) following a summary trial in the magistrates’ court, and of using threatening words and behaviour.

His co-defendant Porter, who was also convicted, did not attend court today.

Dowling was sentenced at Liverpool Crown CourtDowling was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court (Image: St Helens Star)

The sentencing hearing heard that Dowling had “approached” the victim for “no reason”.

“He didn’t trouble you, he didn’t do anything at all to aggravate the situation,” the judge said.

“But you went across and I don’t know what you said to him but the consequences were that your co-defendant then started to kick seven bells out of him and you, it seemed to me, seemed to be encouraging what was going on.”

Prosecuting barrister Gerald Baxter told the court the victim, a “homeless man sleeping rough in St Helens town centre”, had “declined to make s statement to the police”.

Mr Baxter said: “During the assault numerous kicks and punches are delivered by Porter but Dowling can be seen assisting by his close presence”.

The court heard Dowling “throws” the victim to the floor at one stage.  

“The Crown is satisfied the two defendants are equally guilty,” Mr Baxter added.

He said Dowling has previous convictions for violence, including for ABH in 2014, and for battery in 2016 and 2023.

Mr Baxter said the case is one of “high” culpability with the victim “vulnerable due to his personal circumstances” and the attack was a “prolonged and persistent assault”.

The court heard there was no medical evidence or victim personal statement but that “there must have been injuries” caused by the violence.

Zach Dowling had previous convictions for violenceZach Dowling had previous convictions for violence (Image: Merseyside Police)

Defending Dowling, Ben Berkson said his client has been “experiencing trauma” due to his five-year-old son having an “ongoing health condition” and being given “no more than five years to live”.

Mr Berkson said it is to the child’s “benefit” that “both parents” are present for hospital visits, adding that an immediate jail sentence would “have a significant harmful impact on others” asking the judge to make an “exceptional” decision to suspend Dowling’s prison sentence.

He said Dowling, who has been subject to a community order for the past several months for a separate conviction, and “has begun the journey of rehabilitation” and is now “abstinent from alcohol”.

He added Dowling feels “regret and remorse” for his behaviour and that he played a “less significant role” in the attack.

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Judge: This was a case of 'sickening violence'

However, judge Blakey sent Dowling behind bars and said “only an immediate custodial sentence can be justified”.

The judge described the assault as one of “gratuitous” violence on a “defenceless vulnerable man".

He said “it was completely and utterly unprovoked violence” adding, “it seemed to me to be sickening violence”.

The judge added: “To make matters worse both of you were drinking and you didn’t plead guilty”.

He said that therefore Dowling was not entitled to any credit for a guilty plea.

He added that aggravating factors include Dowling’s “previous convictions”, that he had been “drinking” and “there is a group of you in a public domain”.

The judge added he wasn’t “sure” about claims the defendant was a “realistic prospect of rehabilitation” due to him having committed “further violence in 2023”.  

He acknowledged there is “strong personal mitigation” due to the “tragic” circumstances of Dowling’s son’s illness.

However, the judge added: “This is a very serious offence. Those individuals who are unfortunate enough to be in the streets homeless […] need protecting by the court and they must do what they can to do so.”

The judge added: “It seems to me that only an immediate custodial sentence can be justified.”

He sentenced Dowling, who stood in the dock wearing a black shirt, to nine months imprisonment, of which he must serve half in custody.

Dowling, of Winter Grove, Parr, received no separate penalty for the threats offence.

The court heard that co-defendant Porter, 35, of Phoenix Brow, Fingerpost, who did not attend the hearing, had attended A&E on Monday but they had “no further information”.

A warrant for his arrest was issued.