RAF man broke woman's back in prank
An RAF flight sergeant who broke a Tube passenger's back after he tried to jump on to an escalator handrail has been ordered to pay £4,000 to his victim.
Frans Bekker, 51, lost control and fell down the escalator at London's Holborn station after being "goaded" by his table-tennis team-mates, Westminster Magistrates' Court heard.
He collided with a number of people, including Linda Soulsby, who suffered a fractured vertebra, the hearing was told.
Bekker, who has served in the RAF for more than 30 years, pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to endangering the safety of a person conveyed by railway.
Magistrates decided not to impose a custodial sentence but ordered Bekker to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £4,000 in compensation to his victim.
Ms Soulsby, who is in her late 60s, was forced to wear a brace for months and her injury reduced her body height by 15%, the court heard.
Dressed in a black suit, blue shirt and black tie, Bekker looked down in the dock throughout the hearing.
His daughter and commanding officer sat in the public gallery.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ms Soulsby said she felt "no anger or bitterness" towards Bekker but his "stupid moment of madness" had changed her life.
"On the night in question I lay on my back, cold and frightened in A and E, waiting for a scan to see if I was paralysed," she said.
"The accident left me in a fragile mental and physical state and frightened to travel on the underground.
"If people get too close to me I panic.
"This accident has changed my life. I'm not the person I was.
"I'm lucky to be walking. A child or a weaker person could have been killed.
"I have no anger or bitterness.
"It was a stupid moment of madness that went terribly wrong."
Ms Soulsby said her brace had been her "best friend and biggest foe" and she had been unable to bath or shower for three months.
She had been forced to retire three years earlier than planned and was continuing to take painkillers, the court heard.
Imposing a 12-month community order, chairman of the bench Roger Smith told Bekker: "What we have heard is a quite horrendous set of circumstances for this lady whose injury was caused by your actions.
"Whether there was a moment of madness or anything more than that, this lady has had her life completely turned up side down."
Christian Cormack, defending Bekker, told the court his client was "tramautised by the impact" on Ms Soulsby following the incident on October 22 last year.
"The first thing he wanted to do was issue a wholehearted apology," Mr Cormack said.
"This was never an incident that was intended or really thought through and lasted a matter of seconds."
Bekker, from Thornhill, Cardiff, had travelled from South Wales to London with his RAF table tennis squad, most of whom were in their 20s and 30s, the court heard.
Mr Cormack said: "He had been the butt of some jokes in relation to his age compared to them and was goaded into trying to jump on and immediately off the rail at Holborn station."
The group had been drinking but Bekker had only drunk two bottles of beer, he added. Witnesses described the "look of panic" in Bekker's face as he fell down the escalator, Mr Cormack said.
"It was clear it was something that not meant to happen," he went on. The court heard Bekker, who has been recognised for his long service and good conduct in the military, stayed with his victim until ambulance crews arrived. He was also ordered to pay £85 costs and £60 victim surcharge.