TWELVE football hooligans who were involved in an ambush on a rival supporter that left him seriously brain-damaged have been jailed.

Judge Ian Pugh called the assault on Simon Dobbin, 45, a “vicious and sustained attack on a defenceless man” as he handed out maximum sentences to three men who he said were at the centre of the violence.

Mr Dobbin was among a small group of Cambridge United fans who were assaulted in East Street, Southend, at 7.15pm on March 21, 2015. He was left unable to walk or communicate.

Nine men were convicted of violent disorder following a six-week trial at Basildon Crown Court, while three were found guilty of being involved in a conspiracy to commit violent disorder.

Sentencing the men, the judge singled out Thomas Randall, Ryan Carter and Alexander Woods. He said: “The three of you were most involved in the violence late that evening.”

Randall and Woods both had Mr Dobbin’s blood on their clothes while Carter later sent a friend a Facebook message about the need to dispose of his clothing. Carter and Woods also had injuries to their hands.

Judge Pugh said up to 24 Southend United supporters had rushed out of the Railway Tavern when they saw the group of Cambridge United fans making their way to Prittlewell Station.

He said: “Twelve of those 24 were defendants in this trial. The attack lasted a short time, about 90 seconds. During that time Simon Dobbin suffered massive brain injuries as a result of being repeatedly punched, kicked and stamped upon.

“He spent a year in hospital. His injuries were not only life-changing for him, but for his family.”

Mr Dobbin’s wife Nicole, 46, and daughter Emily, 18, both read out victim impact statements, which the judge called “heartbreaking”.

Referring to the fact police could not identify who struck the blows, resulting in a charge of violent disorder, he said: “Violent disorder carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“No sentence that I can pass lawfully can in any way properly reflect the harm that has been caused to Mr Dobbin and his family.”

He added: “This was a serious incident of large scale violence. The attack on Simon Dobbin was a vicious and sustained attack involving kicking and stamping upon a defenceless man.”

The judge said Rhys Pullen was the only defendant to show any remorse by virtue of his guilty plea to violent disorder before the trial.

The judge handed out the following sentences:

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Ryan Carter, 21, of York Road, Southend- guilty of violent disorder. 5 years

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Thomas Randall, 22, of Seaforth Avenue, Southend- guilty of violent disorder. 5 years

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Alexander Woods, 25, of Fairmead Avenue, Westcliff- guilty of violent disorder. 5 years 

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Jamie Chambers, 24, of Coleman Street, Southend- guilty of violent disorder. 4 years

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Matthew Petchey, 26, of Lascelles Gardens, Rochford- guilty of violent disorder. 3.5 years

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Lewis Courtnell, 33, of Stadium Road, Southend- guilty of violent disorder. 3.5 years

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Scott Nicholls, 40, of Little Spenders, Basildon- guilty of violent disorder. 3.5 years

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James Woods, 25, of Fairmead Avenue, Westcliff- guilty of violent disorder. 3 years 

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Philip McGill, 32, of Hornby Avenue, Westcliff- not guilty of violent disorder, guilty of conspiracy. 3 years

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Greg Allen, 29, of Western Avenue, Westcliff- not guilty of violent disorder, guilty of conspiracy. 3 years

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Michael Shawyer, 31, of Belgrave Road, Leigh- not guilty of violent disorder, guilty of conspiracy by majority of 11-1. Jailed for 2.5 years

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Rhys Pullen, 21, of Bridge Road, Wickford, admitted violent disorder before the trial. 16 months

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Ian Young, 41, of Brightwell Avenue, Westcliff- not guilty of conspiracy, guilty of assisting an offender. Will be sentenced next month.

Speaking after the hearing, Det Chief Insp Martin Pasmore, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, slammed claims that Mr Dobbin had been involved in any disorder that day and vowed to continue the investigation.

He said: “I am aware that some of the defendants’ friends have made comment that Mr Dobbin was ejected from the match and caused problems in the pub.

“This is absolute nonsense. Let me be clear, Simon Dobbin is a thoroughly decent man.

“He was not involved in any form of disturbance and was not ejected from the match or any other establishment.

“He is an entirely innocent victim of an unprovoked savage attack which left him with a permanent and devastating brain injury.

“My heart goes to Mr Dobbin’s family who have shown immense courage and dignity throughout the investigation and trial. I hope that the sentences issued today help to draw a line under this awful chapter of their lives and they can now concentrate on the future.

“The investigation into what happened that night and bringing those responsible for what happened to him to justice has been complex.

“My team have spoken to well over one hundred witnesses, spent about 500 man hours reviewing CCTV, carried out detailed analysis of mobile phone data and carried out detailed forensic analysis. Despite our best efforts we still don’t know who exactly threw the fateful blows that left Simon with his life-changing injuries.

“Someone, however, does know. And while today we have seen a number of people sentenced in connection with the events of that evening, I still ask anyone who has information to contact us.

“What happened to Simon could have happened to anyone’s husband, father, or son.

“I also hope this tragic case highlights the consequences of football-related violence.

“We know there had been tensions involving a minority of people claiming to be football supporters that day.

“We believe they had been looking for a fight, and this resulted in the attack on Simon and his friends, who were completely innocent and not involved in any previous quarrels or incidents.

“No genuine football fan would ever be involved in, or condone, such acts of such horrific violence.

“This was not fuelled by a passion for the game. It was fuelled by alcohol and thuggery and there is never any justification for such mindless behaviour.”

Contact the Harlow Major Investigation Team on 101 or email scdappeals@essex.pnn.police.uk.

Alternatively, contact independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or crimestoppers-uk.org