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Special Report: My head looked like I'd been hit with an axe; A FATHER REVEALS THE HORRIFIC STORY BEHIND A NEW CRIME TREND SWEEPING NORTH WALES.

Byline: Hugo Duncan

WITHIN an hour of strolling into The Albion pub in Conwy for a quiet drink with friends, John Rowlands was in hospital with blood gushing from his head and hands.

The 32-year-old father is a victim of one of North Wales' most frightening new crime trends - pub glass attacks.

Police say that the number of attacks in North Wales have risen three-fold in the past five years. In a nine-month period in 1997 there were nine attacks compared with 27 so far this year.

Mr Rowlands, who has a five-year-old son, was attacked by a group of men and glassed twice across the back of the head.

He said: ``The back of my head looked as though I had been hit with an axe.''

This was in December last year, and he had never seen the men before. The attackers have still not been found.

Mr Rowlands, who works as a heavy plant fitter, said: ``I went out for a quiet drink with some of my friends and within the hour I was in hospital being stitched up. I hadn't even had a full pint of beer.

``I went to the loo and on the way back I was pounced upon by a group of lads.

``It was very, very frightening and I don't even know who it was. I felt a sharp blow to the back of my head and when I put my hand there I realised I had been really badly cut.

``Then I was glassed again in the same place; the glass went through my hand and into my head. I needed 14 stitches on my head and five in the hand.

``I must have lost about a pint or two of blood, my clothes were drenched in it and even my underpants were covered, that's how much I bled. It was absolutely pouring out of me.''

Despite being punched and kicked as well, Mr Rowlands said he could feel the sharpness of the glass smashing over his skull above everything else. ``Fortunately no glass was lodged in my head or hand,'' he said.

Like many other victims, Mr Rowlands, of Marl Crescent, Llandudno Junction, used his right hand to defend himself, and he has the scars to prove it.

He said: ``I am quite scarred on the back of my head and have a few on my hand as well. I was cut between the fingers and it was very painful for about a month, I can still feel it a bit now. I couldn't wash my hair properly for quite some time, and the top of my middle finger is still quite numb.''

Mr Rowlands was off work for 10 days following the attack and is now going through victim support and seeking criminal injuries compensation.

Police say the severity of glassing attacks can be horrific.

Crime reduction adviser Det Con Chris Perkins said: ``The trouble with glassing injuries is that they can be life threatening. If you slash someone's artery there are serious problems.

``The victims are usually in the 17 to 24 age group and while the offender will be dealt with by the judicial system the victim has to carry the scars for life.

``These offences are very serious, as all offences against the person are, and they are dealt with according to the severity of the attack, like with all assaults.''

But he said the majority of glassing incidents are alcohol related, which makes them hard to prevent, despite schemes to tackle alcohol related crime and promote safety in pubs and clubs.

Mr Perkins said: ``If people are drinking then people are drinking and it is very hard to predict human nature when there is alcohol in the blood.

``For this reason there is no tangible evidence or specific reason why there should be an increase in these offences.

``We will always carry on promoting safety initiatives in pubs and clubs, but there is a responsibility on the licensees to ensure this kind of offence is not committed.''

Plastic surgery is sometimes needed, especially if the cut is to the face, and patients in North Wales are often referred to the Countess of Chester Hospital or the regional plastic surgery and burns unit at Whiston Hospital near Liverpool.

Whiston's clinical director for plastic surgery and consultant plastic surgeon Lore Feldberg said: ``People who have been hit with a bottle or a glass often get this really ugly round or curved cut, which is often on the side of the face.

``There is a big nerve, the facial nerve, which runs from the ear to the face and it makes your face move. It governs your facial expressions and makes you smile or frown.

``If injury damages this nerve then it can cause paralysis and can stop you showing facial expressions or stop you smiling on one side of the face.''

Such injuries can be very difficult to operate on because of the precision required. Miss Feldberg said: ``Those patients need to be really carefully treated and if the nerve has been badly damaged then we need to sow it up and repair it with tiny stitches.

``Unless you get the nerve back exactly it doesn't regrow which can lead to serious scarring. The repair needs to be as clean as possible so the smile is clean as well.

``The phrase scarred for life really fits in here because when someone is cut on the face as badly as this other people see it every day.''

Attacks to the face with glass can also pose a serious threat to the neck and the eyes, and nearly always lead to a huge loss of blood.

Miss Feldberg said: ``There is a very strong blood supply to the head and neck and they do bleed a frightening amount in these cases.''

Injuries to the hand are common as the victim tries to defend the face and head. They too can have life-changing implications.

Alison Newton, consultant psychologist at Whiston, deals with many such victims as they try to overcome these problems.

She said: ``Most of the people I have seen have had injuries to the arms and hands through protecting themselves when attacked.

``If they do defend themselves they usually use their dominant hand which means they cannot then work properly.

``And if the face is damaged then the victim has to put a life together with more or less a new face, which can be very difficult for those who have been really disfigured, where they have had chunks of the face slashed away.

``The trauma of the event can effect their whole life.''

As well as the in-hospital counselling there are victim support groups across North Wales.

Wrexham Victim Support co-ordinator Tina Davenport said not everyone wants the service but it is available for those who do. They offer emotional and practical support to victims.

She said: ``We do get people who have been attacked with a glass or bottle, usually after a Saturday night, and we offer them support if they want it.

``There is the emotional side which they have to come to terms with, and also the practical side - they may have to go to court if the offender is caught, for instance, and we also help them with criminal injury claims.''

CAPTION(S):

MARKED FOR LIFE: The scar on the head of victim John Rowlands; GLASS VICTIM: Jeff Rowlands was attacked in The Albion pub in Conwy; ATTACK: The number of glass attacks in North Wales pubs is causing police serious concern.; This picture was posed by models
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Oct 7, 2002
Words:1264
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