A THUG who fractured his girlfriend's skull when she ended their relationship was spared prison - then grinned and joked as he left court.

Andrew Foulds's barrister said that he "greatly regretted" the attack on his partner which happened in front of a two-year-old child in their home.

The 24-year-old was said to be "a decent young man who made a foolish mistake" when he smashed a porcelain piggy bank into the side of her head.

COMMENT: Time for judges to take domestic abuse seriously

Yet his remorse was nowhere to be seen once he was outside of the court as he simply laughed at the law - until he realised he was being photographed.

The judge who allowed him free, spoke just last month of how domestic violence was reaching "epidemic levels" after dealing with three cases in a morning.

Recorder Eric Elliott, QC, said he was "disturbed" by the apparent rise - a day after he allowed a bullying boyfriend free for a "sustained" assault.

The County Durham man was given a suspended sentence despite throttling his girlfriend and shoving a sock in her mouth at their home in Bishop Auckland.

Mr Recorder Elliott said the 28-year-old was lucky not to be facing an attempted murder charge, and told him: "You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself."

Last night, campaigners said some judges should be ashamed for allowing violent men back on the streets - and seemingly giving a green light for others.

Clare Phillipson, of Wearside Women in Need, said: "Time and again, judges are letting us down . . . time and again women get criticised for not prosecuting - this is why.

"It's massively frustrating for organisations like ours which work with victims, and for the police, to try so hard to get cases to court and see outcomes like this.

"We don't think this is what the public want, we know for sure it leaves victims feeling 'what was the point in going through with it all'.

"We have to constantly ask ourselves if this man had fractured the skull of a judge would he have walked away laughing, or would a fellow judge have locked him up.

"This is why the public is losing faith in the criminal justice system, and why victims do not feel protected."

Foulds, a self-employed window cleaner from Hartlepool, had been facing jail for the attack last October after he admitted a charge of unlawful wounding.

His barrister, Jim Withyman, told Teesside Crown Court: "He is not a violent man . . . He is a hard-working man . . . He regrets it to this day.

"Had he then gone over and punched her or done something further, I could not say this was a reckless act. This was effectively one incident."

The court heard how the victim was left scarred for life, and has moved away from the area with her daughter because she is frightened of Foulds.

She said in an impact statement that she suffers panic attacks and was terrified about giving evidence as her former partner was initially denying it.

Foulds had told her to explain to the police that the money box fell from the top of a wardrobe, and he maintained that lie until the 11th hour.

Prosecutor Graeme Gaston said the woman had a CT scan in hospital which showed a skull fracture, and had a wound down to the bone which needed stitches.

Mr Gaston said the attack came after she told Foulds she wanted to end their romance, and threw a holdall at him to get his belongings together.

The young mum felt a blow to the left side of her head and saw shattered bits of the porcelain pig on the bedroom carpet, said Mr Gaston.

Mr Recorder Elliott told Foulds: "She made it clear to you she wanted you out of her life. Instead of accepting the situation, you took to violence.

"An offence of this nature does call for imprisonment. I find this was a complete one-off incident. It seems to me I am able to suspend the sentence."

The court heard how the couple had been together for just five months, and the woman wanted to end the relationship after lots of arguments - but no violence.

After the attack, the victim also had swelling and bruising around her left cheek and eye, and had lost the feeling on the side of her forehead.

Father-of-one Foulds, of Brierton Lane, Hartlepool, was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence, with supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work.

The judge told him: "I am able to treat this as a one-off, and you are not normally a man who resorts to violence . . .

"Apart from leading a hard-working, decent life, you also have regular contact with your daughter, and if I was to send you to prison today, not only would you be branded a man with a prison sentence, it may lead to difficulties in keeping contact with your daughter.

"Your former partner is in fear of further contact with you. She is embarrassed by the sight of the scar, which is in a very notable position one her forehead."

Ms Phillipson added: "Going to trial is exceedingly traumatic for the victim, and adds to the terror for them because they really fear repercussions.

"They think if they prosecute it could make the violent person worse, it adds to the sense of terror, knowing that this person is walking free."

Judge's other domestic violence cases

May 14

Michael Bugg - suspended sentence

Michael Bugg was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended two years, after he admitted assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The 28-year-old was told he was lucky he was not facing an attempted murder charge after choking his girlfriend and stuffing a sock in her mouth.

Bugg, of Eden Close, Bishop Auckland, left fingernail marks and bruises on his victim's neck, where he had squeezed so tightly, and a cut mouth and nose.

He repeatedly punched the woman, pulled her backwards off a sofa by her ponytail and slapped her in the face - leaving her on her knees and spitting blood.

When he was arrested - initially for attempted murder - he blamed his partner and said she must have tripped over his dog. He was fined two years ago for attacking her.

Recorder Eric Elliott, QC, told him: "Any right-thinking person would regard this as disgraceful behaviour . . . you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself."

The judge said he was allowing the jobless joiner to walk free because he had spent the equivalent of a three-month sentence behind bars on remand, and had the offer of a job.

He said: "I am taking an exceptional course because the reality is if you serve a short term of imprisonment, the risk of you committing something like this again is far greater than it would be if you had this hanging over your head for the next two years."

May 15

Ryan Nichols - jailed

Ryan Nichols was jailed for 33 months after he admitted assault occasioning actual bodily harm, threats to kill, criminal damage and assaulting a police officer.

The 22-year-old attacked his girlfriend in front of her terrified six-year-old son at their home in Stockton in April.

Teesside Crown Court heard how he held two carving knives to the woman's throat after smashing ornaments and punching her.

Nichols, of Westbourne Street, Stockton, dragged his victim to a bathroom where he attacked her as the child watched.

Mr Recorder Elliott described him as "a violent drunk, who readily loses your temper" but said when he is sober "a responsible, decent man with ability".

Nichols, of Westbourne Street, Stockton, admitted charges of making a threat to kill, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, criminal damage and assaulting a police officer.

The court heard how he smashed a ornaments before punching his partner, getting the knives and dragging her by the hair to the bathroom, where they were seen by the boy.

In an impact statement, the woman said she was in fear for her life and terrified what might happen to her son, and will struggle to forget the ordeal in.

Mr Recorder Elliott said: "One wonders what effect that is going to have on the boy . . . he will no doubt have nightmares for a very long time to come."

Steven Galloway - suspended sentence

Steven Galloway was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after he admitted assault, affray and dangerous driving.

The 40-year-old, of Bowness Close, Hartlepool, assaulted his then-partner at her Middlesbrough home then tried to run her off the road when she fled in a car.

The judge said he was not locking him up for the "terrifying" ordeal because Galloway had been a decent, hard-working man until skin cancer and mental illness took its toll.

The unemployed driver was said to have been "ashamed and disgusted", and Mr Recorder Elliott said: "The disturbing aspect of this case is that it's yet another case involving domestic violence . . . it is almost reaching epidemic levels."

Daniel Worthy - suspended sentence

Daniel Worthy was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to go on a Building Better Relationships course after he admitted harassment.

On two occasions, the 34-year-old went to his former partner's home - once waking her and threatening to assault her, and a week later when he threatened to kill her.

The court heard how Worthy, of Oliver Street, Middlesbrough, lost his job and had not seen his twin daughters since being remanded in custody in December.