A FATHER-to-be is behind bars after taking part in a group attack on an innocent man who was punched and stamped on as he lay on the ground.

Gary Lee Walls was jailed for two years after admitting causing grievous bodily harm to Charles Sandey in a bigoted assault which left his victim unable to work, drive or play sports.

Walls attacked Mr Sandey because he mistakenly thought he was gay.

Walls, 24, of Hudson Crescent, York, whose girlfriend is pregnant, is the only member of the trio to be charged - Judge Stephen Ashurst said this was an issue of "great regret and great surprise". However, he said that did not lessen Walls' part in the "cowardly, disgraceful" attack.

John Edwards, prosecuting, told York Crown Court yesterday the assault happened last July when Mr Sandey was returning home along St Mary's by the riverside in York after a night out.

He said the area was known to be frequented in the evening by homosexual men, and a passer-by heard one of the group shouting homophobic insults.

"When the defendant pleaded guilty he did so, acknowledging this was aggravated by homophobia.

"The target of their violence, quite randomly it would seem, was this complainant," he said.

A woman who saw the attackers, including Walls, described seeing Mr Sandey on the ground. The men were punching him before one - it is not known who - jumped on his leg as they shouted he is a pervert'.

Afterwards Walls spoke to the witness, telling her his name. Forensic experts later found blood on him.

Mr Sandey's broken leg took six months to heal, and has a titanium rod in place.

In a statement, he said he would never enjoy full mobility. As a mortgage consultant, he is unable to work as he cannot drive. He also cannot drive his son anywhere.

He suffered facial bruising, headaches, and the attack aggravated arthritis in his shoulder.

David Dixon, mitigating, said Walls started drinking and mixing with "the wrong crowd" after his grandmother died as he tried to resuscitate her.

He has previous convictions for public order offence and battery.

On July 28, he had had four pints - "a modest amount" compared with usual, leading him to believe his drink had been drugged. He has since reduced his consumption.

"He has no recollection of what took place," said Mr Dixon.

He accepted the witness accounts "without reservation" but stressed he was not homophobic.

Judge Ashurst acknowledged that alcohol and peer pressure played their part.

"Three of you determined to attack someone for no reason other than you thought he was homosexual. It was a disgraceful assault by three younger men. He was put to the ground, kicked and stamped on. He has serious injuries, and there are long-term consequences for this man."