A VIGILANTE attacker has been jailed for kicking a homeless woman in the face after falsely accusing her of stealing his phone.

Liam Cooper attacked the woman after seeing her looking in his car and then chased her through the centre of Bideford before demanding that she empty her bag.

She did not have the phone but he responded by calling her a crackhead and kicking her in the head ‘like a football’. She was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken cheekbone and eye socket.

Cooper was already subject to two suspended sentences when he carried out the attack in March last year. One was for possessing heroin and cocaine and the other for a burglary.

The victim was homeless and wrote an impact statement saying she is now scared about going into the centre of Bideford and has suffered nightmares and flashbacks about the attack.

She wrote: 'He had no right to take the law into his own hands. I was homeless and he called me a crackhead. I showed him my bag and demonstrated that I didn’t have his phone but he wasn’t listening.'

Cooper, aged 37, of North Street, Bideford, admitted assault causing grievous bodily harm and was jailed for 16 months by Recorder Mr Donald Tait at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: 'This was a very nasty incident. It is bad enough being homeless but being female and on the street must be even worse. Being attacked by you was a dreadful thing.

'Whatever you believed about your mobile phone being taken, behaving in that way was absolutely unacceptable. People who saw the attack described you as kicking her like a football.

'She was defenceless and you took out your anger on her.'

Miss Felicity Payne, prosecuting, said the attack took place in Mill Street, Bideford at about 9.30 pm on March 24, 2022 when Cooper saw the woman looking into his car and came the mistaken conclusion she had just stolen his phone from inside it.

He shouted at her and tried to hit her but she moved away towards the Coop, where her boyfriend was selling the Big Issue. Cooper followed her, caught up with her and started shouting abuse.

She sat on the pavement and emptied her bag to show him that she did not have his phone but he became angrier and then aimed a kick that caught her in the face, knocking her unconscious and leaving her covered in blood.

She suffered serious bruising, two fractured bones in her face and has been left with a small scar on one eye.

Mr Nick Lewin, defending, said Cooper has turned his life around in the time since the attack and was worked well with probation. He has a new partner, family responsibilities for her two children, and has tackled his issues of substance abuse.

He said he had reacted to seeing the woman opening his car door and looking inside. He said: “This case could be seen as a man effectively catching up with a burglar, losing his temper, and expressing his anger in a totally inappropriate way.”