Belfast Telegraph

Anger as man avoids jail for headbutting A&E nurse

By Lisa Smyth and Alan Erwin

A judge's decision to hand a suspended jail sentence to a man who headbutted a nurse in a busy accident and emergency department has been met with outrage.

Robert Cullen (45) was being treated for a head injury at the casualty unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital on St Patrick’s Day when he launched the violent attack.

He escaped a three-month prison term when the judge decided to suspend it for two years because of his role as sole carer for his ill sister.

The director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, Janice Smyth, said: “Violence against healthcare staff is unacceptable regardless of the circumstances.

“We expect our nurses to treat patients with respect and expect the same in return for nurses.”

The case comes as the Belfast Telegraph highlighted the level of violent attacks on paramedics.

Cullen, of Antrim Road in Belfast, headbutted a nurse after he was brought into the unit bleeding heavily from his head.

He also attacked three police officers as they tried to bring him back to A&E.

Cullen has no memory of last month's violent outburst but accepted the prosecution case, his lawyer said.

He faced charges of common assault, disorderly behaviour and three counts of assault on police.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard he became abusive and aggressive to medical staff after being brought to the hospital bleeding

heavily from a head wound on March 17.

A prosecution lawyer said Cullen squared up to a nurse with his fists clenched as she tried to administer first aid. He then launched a headbutt attack before leaving the department.

Later he attacked police officers, attempting to punch and headbutt them. One was kneed in the groin.

Following his arrest, he said he could not remember the incident but apologised for what had happened.

Cullen was eventually treated for his injuries from an earlier fall, receiving nine staples, the court heard.

His solicitor disclosed that he was the sole carer for his sister, who suffers from a psychiatric condition. Cullen was said to have abused alcohol as a coping mechanism for his own depression.

“I'm not here defending the indefensible,” his lawyer added.

“I'm not trying to negate what happened, but we all act differently with head injuries.”

The judge stressed that the courts have a zero-tolerance attitude to attacks on emergency staff but he left the three-month jail term “hanging over Cullen's head” by suspending it for two years because of his role as a carer.

Ms Smyth said: “We welcome the fact this case was investigated by the police and that the Public Prosecution Service decided to take the case to court.

“We welcome the fact this man pleaded guilty but we would not want the public to take any message from the fact that he was given a suspended sentence.”

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