A FATHER-of-two punched a Muslim taxi driver in the face repeatedly, called him a “P*** b*****d” and stole his bag of change, a court heard yesterday.

David Hart admitted charges of theft, racially-aggravated common assault and criminal damage when he appeared in court.

After a night out drinking in Durham, the 37-year-old defendant took Khalaf Ali’s taxi from North Road, Durham, to his home in New Street, Sherburn.

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Alan Davison, prosecuting, said: “Mr Ali said they made small talk, and Mr Hart asked him if he was Muslim and if he was fasting.

“At the end of the journey, Mr Hart didn’t hand over any money and walked away.

“He said to Mr Ali: ‘Mohammed will pay you’.”

Hart then talked about Mr Ali’s “f****** religion”.

The taxi driver tried to get away but he stalled his car and couldn’t put the electric windows up in time.

Hart started punching him in the face through the open window and shouting: “You P*** b*****d, why are you in this country.”

Mr Davison said: “Mr Ali managed to start the car, and saw the defendant in the yard of a property on New Street.

“He rang the police, and Mr Hart started kicking the door of his taxi.

“He then climbed in and stole the change bag containing £30-40.”

Mr Ali was taken to Accident and Emergency and was treated for bruising to the right hand side of his head, grazes on his left forearm and tenderness to his right cheekbone.

In his police interview Hart, who had injuries to his right knuckle, said his recollections were only hazy but he was said to be apologetic.

In mitigation, Warren Ridley told Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court that Hart was a father of two young children and a carer for his wife.

“He doesn’t drink habitually,” he said.

“He went into a bar, met some associates and they were drinking to excess. He accepts the offences but doesn’t remember much of it, with regards to his actions.

“He has accepted the racial element of this offence but he wants me to say he is not a racist.

“He has Asian and Muslim friends.”

A probation report suggested Hart had initially only left the house to fetch medicine for one of his children, who had chicken pox, but ended up drinking with old friends.

He is now seeking help for alcohol problems and was “ashamed” of his behaviour, the court heard.

Magistrates gave him an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered him to pay £443 in compensation and £85 costs.