A MAN who launched a spray paint attack on homeless man Michael Cash has been sentenced to an 18 month community order.

Aaron Jones, of Balmoral Road, Middlesbrough, appeared at Teesside Magistrates Court on Wednesday to face charges of common assault and criminal damage following the attack early last month.

The Northern Echo:

Aaron Jones arriving in court charged with common assault and criminal damage in connection with a spray paint attack on a homeless man. Picture: North News

The 33-year-old, who turned up for the hearing with his face hidden by a child's Frankenstein mask, pleaded guilty to both charges.

Michael Cash, 32, was found dead in a cemetery three days after the assault which happened near Tesco Express in Normanby High Street, Middlesbrough.

The Northern Echo:

Rachael Dodsworth, prosecuting, told the court that the defendant used a high powered water pistol filled with water mixed with red paint.

The defendant asked a security guard at Tesco to film his ‘prank’ but refused when he realised that Mr Cash was going to be sprayed with a ‘super-soaker’ rather than a small water pistol.

She said the attack was clearly pre-meditated as the water gun was already filled with paint in the rear of Jones’ van.

“He (Jones) clearly had an issue with beggars and has an issue with people in his area who he believes are begging,” she said.

In mitigation, Neil Douglas said Jones had reflected on his actions when he targeted Mr Cash.

“What he did was wrong and he knows it was wrong,” said Mr Douglas. “Any thoughts he had as justification have dissipated with time, reflection and taking onboard the thoughts of other people.”

He added: “He thought at the time it was amusing but it clearly wasn’t - it was clearly degrading.”

The video footage of the attack went viral after thousands of people shared it across social media.

A victim impact statement from Mr Cash’s sister, Sarah Carman, highlighted the devastation of the family.

Her letter, read out in court, showed how he had struggled to come to terms with their mother’s death and had turned to drink and drugs to help him cope.

She wrote: “The family tried to help Michael but he seemed unable to cope with the death of his mother and preferred to spend his time sleeping rough.”

After watching the footage on social media, she added: “I was shocked that somebody could do that to Michael. I couldn’t believe that someone could that, he wasn’t hurting no-one and no-one deserves that.”

Following the attack Jones, who works as a self employed decorator, called on Cleveland Police for protection following a series of threats made against him.

A probation report said Jones was remorseful for his behaviour and denied that it was premeditated.

The court heard the defendant had been subject to online threats following the incident in September and feared for his family’s safety.

Chairman of the bench Stephen Walker sentenced Jones to 18 month community order, 180 hours unpaid work and 20 hours of rehabilitation activity days. He was also ordered to pay £85 court cost, £85 victim surcharge and £100 compensation for the damage.

He said: “We have put this in the highest category of common assault, the reason being is that if the aggravating factors - it was a targeted attack with an element of premedication. He was a vulnerable victim and it was shared on social media.”

Cleveland Police said Mr Cash's death was not treated as suspicious and was not connected with anything which happened on September 9 outside the store.

Police officers attended court in case of a disturbance in the public gallery.