A man has walked free from court, eight months after he punched two women outside a Newcastle nightclub.
On Monday, a magistrate acquitted Shaun Rudder of all charges relating to the Boxing Day attack, saying he could not rule out that the 26-year-old was acting in self-defence.
Brittany Merrick was left with horrific facial injuries after Rudder knocked her unconscious, causing her to fall face-first onto a CBD footpath.
The confrontation began inside Finnigan’s nightclub when Rudder allegedly called Merrick “a psycho”, prompting her to grab him by the throat and push him to the ground. Rudder then retaliated by spitting in her face.
It was an altercation that would see Rudder, Merrick and her best friend Britanny Norris ejected from club and thrown out on to the street. Somewhere between five and 15 minutes later Merrick would end up unconscious on the footpath, bleeding profusely from her head as Rudder fled on foot.
The prosecution claimed that Rudder had been “lying in wait” for the women outside the venue, at which point he sent Norris a text message saying “behind you” and struck her to the back of the head, reports The Newcastle Herald.
Merrick claims Rudder then punched her multiple times when she stepped in to defend her friend.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Rudder admitted to punching Merrick once to the head, but claimed he was protecting himself as she had “stormed” toward him, fists flying.
He was charged with two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Administering his verdict on Monday, Newcastle Local Court Magistrate Andrew Eckhold said Norris and Merrick were “unreliable” witnesses, given the inconsistencies in their stories and their level of intoxication on the night of the incident.
He also noted the “most extraordinary” CCTV footage from inside venue.
“It shows an extraordinary level of physical capacity by Ms Merrick, I’ve got to say … which really does confuse things,” Eckhold said, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Eckhold said that while it is generally unacceptable for a man to hit a woman, it was necessary to overlook that “social norm” under these circumstances.
“Given that he had been taken to the ground inside Finnegan’s, and that she punched him effectively a number of times inside Finnegan’s,” he said, “then it is a matter where he would have ultimately been justified in landing a blow upon her — just a single blow as he says he did — in self-defence.”
Rudder expressed his relief at the verdict outside court, having spent the past eight months behind bars.
“It’s all over now and I get to go home with my family,” he said, according to The Newcastle Herald.
“I’m glad the truth came out.
“I can’t describe it in words. It’s eight months I’ll never get back.”