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RAF Honington airman James Sinclair jailed after punching Thomas Cleary in Bury St Edmunds




An RAF gunner faces losing his military career after being jailed for causing grievous bodily harm to a man in his 70s in Bury St Edmunds.

James Sinclair, 25, of 27 Squadron, RAF Honington, was found guilty in December and returned to Ipswich Crown Court this afternoon (Thursday, February 6).

Judge Emma Peters sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment, half of which will be spent behind bars and half on licence.

James Sinclair (Suffolk Police)
James Sinclair (Suffolk Police)

The judge said she had given ‘serious thought’ before giving a sentence that will have ‘a terminating effect’ on the career of Sinclair - who is mid-way through an RAF contract, set to run from 2013 to 2025.

But Judge Peters said the ‘catastrophic impact’ caused to the victim helped make up her mind - with Thomas Cleary having now lost his independence.

It concludes a saga that began in the early hours of November 24, 2018, in the aftermath of the previous day’s Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre.

The court previously heard Sinclair had been on a night out with his RAF mates (which the defendant referred to as ‘subtle drinks’). It was said the RAF man was about to go home when he approached Thomas Cleary and his son Patrick, then aged 71 and 31 respectively.

The Clearys alleged Sinclair, who had previously trained as a boxer, had been the aggressor. The defendant, who claimed to have acted in self-defence, was found not guilty of one charge of assault against Patrick. But a jury found him guilty of GBH towards Thomas Cleary.

Danielle O’Donovan, prosecuting, read a victim statement from Patrick Cleary which said he’d had to give up work to become a full-time carer for his father.

A victim statement from Thomas Cleary added that the victim had needed brain surgery and that his family had been told he ‘might not make it’. He is still needing hospital treatment, has trouble with his memory and is no longer able to drive. Patrick and Thomas’s regular pub visits have also stopped as a result.

Judge Peters, summing up, said: “The impact has been catastrophic on Thomas Cleary and, while I accept the impact a prison sentence will have on your career, I can only rule that a prison sentence is appropriate.”

Manchester-bred Sinclair, wearing a blue suit and said to be from an ‘RAF family’ did not speak during proceedings, but exhaled loudly and looked to the ceiling when the verdict was read.

A female family member, who wished not to be named, told the Bury Free Press afterwards that Thomas Cleary was a talented musician with Irish heritage, who could play almost any string instrument until the attack - which has left him unable to play.

“The sentence should have been longer,” she added. “Patrick has now had to give his life up as well.”


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