AN innocent man who was savagely beaten and left for dead in the street says he is dismayed that his attacker will serve just one year in prison.

Richard Stark has been left brain damaged, permanently disfigured, unable to work and living in a care home after the brutal assault in Darlington.

His attacker Stephen Starling, 36, of Corporation Road, Darlington was charged with an offence - causing grievous bodily harm with intent - which carries a maximum penalty of life.

The Northern Echo:

Stephen Starling

Prosecutors accepted a plea to a lesser charge of causing grievous bodily harm when he was due to go on trial - without consulting police or Mr Stark.

The Northern Echo understands there is an investigation into how the apparent breakdown in communication occurred and to ensure it is not repeated.

Durham Constabulary is blaming the Crown Prosecution Service but they insist they have done nothing wrong and did everything according to their protocol.

The CPS said in a statement that the plea to a reduced charged was accepted for "evidential reasons" and because Mr Stark has no memory of the assault.

Yet the former chef is furious he was not asked about the decision, and the fact his attacker was jailed for just two years - and will serve half.

In an exclusive interview with the Echo last night, he revealed: "I have no memory of that night - but I'll never be able to forget the consequences."

The Northern Echo:

Richard Stark, speaking to The Northern Echo

The 38-year-old added: "Every aspect of my life has been altered forever, and I only have to look in the mirror for a daily reminder of that."

He suffered severe scarring to his face, has mobility problems and lapses in memory and concentration which mean he cannot safely live in his own home.

The Northern Echo:

Richard Stark in hospital days after the attack

His furious brother Keith, from Thornley, County Durham, who also looks after him, said: "Richard was left for dead lying in a pool of blood in the street.

"He was unconscious and he'd have died if two policemen hadn't found him by chance.

"His brain was swollen so badly he had to be put into an induced coma and he was unconscious for around four weeks. He spent six months in hospital.

"When I saw him in hospital I thought it was a miracle he was still alive.

"His face was a mess. There was a clear print from a shoe on his head where it looked as though he had been stamped on. We prepared ourselves for losing him.

"It seemed amazing that he recovered but when he did he was a shadow of his former self. He couldn't concentrate or remember how to do basic tasks.

"He was assessed to see whether he had the basic skills to live alone. He couldn't be trusted to use kitchen equipment or even cross the road safely.

"The only option was to put him into a care home where he has 24-hour care. It's heartbreaking and feels as though I've lost so much of my brother."

The Northern Echo:

Richard Stark suffered serious scarring to his forehead

The 40-year-old said when the case came to court the family expected the attacker to be charged with attempted murder.

He added: "We were satisfied when the police said he would be charged with grievous bodily harm with intent because that carries a maximum life sentence.

"I knew he wouldn't get life even though he had taken Richard's life away. A sentence in double figures was the least we'd have been satisfied with.

"Then without any warning or consultation with us or even the police the CPS reduced the charge to GBH without intent and he was jailed for two years.

"That means he could be out before Christmas when we haven't even begun to come to terms with what he's done to Richard. How is this justice?"

Victim Mr Stark, originally from Thornley, was attacked in an alleyway off Victoria Road, close to the centre of Darlington, but now lives in a care home in Durham.

He said: "I can remember nothing about the attack but I know I did nothing to provoke him. He has destroyed me as a person and left me with no chance of being the man I used to be.

"I am scarred by the skin grafts that had to be done to repair the wounds to my head and I can't remember even simple things about myself.

"The only thing I can do is to try to recover enough to be allowed to live by myself again in my own home."

Detective Constable Mick Trodden, who investigated last April's assault, said it was one of the worst cases of mindless violence in his 16-year career.

The officer said: "Starling showed no mercy and absolutely no concern for his victim - simply walking away and leaving him for dead in the road.

"It was a brutal and cowardly attack, and wholly blameless Mr Stark - for all of his life-changing and devastating injuries - is very lucky to be alive."

A force spokesperson said in a statement: "Durham Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) work closely to bring offenders to justice.

"Usually officers would be consulted prior to the CPS accepting a plea allowing officers the opportunity to discuss the decision with the victim.

"Unfortunately that does not appear to have happened on this occasion and the victim, who sustained life-changing injuries, has been left disappointed with the result of the court case.

"We are working with our partners in the CPS to identify why this happened and how we can prevent it happening again."

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "It is the duty of prosecutors to keep all cases under continuous review, in line with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, "During the prosecution of this case, it became clear that the evidential standard required to prove a section 18 assault charge could not be met. Given this, the decision to accept the defendant's plea to a section 20 offence was wholly appropriate.

"In cases where the acceptance of a lesser plea is made on public interest grounds, prosecutors will consult with the victim and police involved in the case, to ensure that the rationale for the acceptance of that plea is understood by all parties.

"In this case however the basis for accepting the lesser plea was entirely evidential, a fact that any such consultation would have been unable to change."