A DRUNK man told a woman to “f*** off” to her “own country” and made her boyfriend fall off his bike whilst they tried to enjoy a cycle ride on a summer’s evening.

Stephen Robert Panes launched the expletive-laden racist abuse after the couple asked to pass him on a narrow section of the path that runs alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Bradford on Avon and Trowbridge.

Instead of moving out of their way, the 49-year-old angrily told them, “this is my path,” and blocked other cyclists trying to use the path.

He was spared jail at Swindon Crown Court on Monday, with Judge Jason Taylor QC saying that “society is better off if you get help for your problems”.

Sara Mirabassi, who was born in Tehran, Iran, had been cycling along the canal path towards Trowbridge at around 5pm on July 22, 2020 with her boyfriend Luke Machin when they came across Panes, prosecutor Chris Smyth told the court.

“The defendant took it that he had priority along the tow path, that cyclists should give way to him, despite the fact that they would be going faster than he was walking, and when the pair of them asked him at least four times to move out of the way, he declined, saying it was a pedestrian right of way and that they were scaring his puppy,” Mr Smyth added.

But after Miss Mirabassi tried and failed to go around Panes, he started shouting that it was his path and added: “I was born here, I live here.”

When the complainant added that she did too, Panes confronted her, shouting in her face and clenching his fists, the court heard.

Mr Smyth continued: “When the path widened again, she moved onto the grass to pass him, but as she was passing, he shouted to her in an aggressive way.

“She responded ‘f*** off’. The defendant said ‘f*** off back to your own country’.”

Soon after his girlfriend had been able to get past, Mr Machin also attempted to go past Panes.

“The defendant puts out his arm, it hits his bag, it causes Mr Machin to fall over and he falls over and hits the cycle path,” Mr Smyth said, telling the court that he suffered cuts to his hands, elbow and bicep, and a “nasty” grazed knee that required him to go to hospital.

In police interview, Panes told officers there was nothing wrong with what he said and reiterated that in a pre-sentence report prepared for the court, showing no remorse according to Judge Taylor.

In statements to police, read out in court, both Miss Mirabassi and Mr Machin said they avoid the canal towpath in case they come across the defendant, who appeared in the dock at Swindon Crown Court wearing a black suit and black shirt.

Defending, Nick Barraclough told the court that Panes, of Southville Road in Bradford on Avon, had pleaded guilty to racially aggravated harassment and assault occassioning actual bodily harm on the day of the trial last November.

He added that the defendant had a “number of difficulties”, including alcohol dependency and “psychological distress”.

“He said that he struggled day to day maintaining calm, his temper; he was drinking to excess.

“He pleaded guilty fully expecting to be returned to prison, he told me then and again today, that he can go to prison but what he would appreciate is some further help.

“He is drinking himself into the grave, it is out of control, and from lockdown, he has found himself unable to control the drinking.”

He appealed to the judge to give a suspended sentence, rather than an immediate return to custody.

Summing up, Judge Taylor said that Panes’ behaviour “portrayed ignorance” and was “wholly unnecessary and completely avoidable”.

He was unimpressed with the defendant’s record of 25 previous convictions for 76 offences, adding: “It is a singularly unimpressive record.”

However, he said that “society is better off if you get help for your problems”, and gave Panes a suspended sentence.

The 23-week prison term will be suspended for two years, and he must complete 19 sessions of the thinking skills programme, 15 rehabilitation activity days, 12 sessions of mental health treatment and six months of alcohol treatment.

He must also pay £200 in costs and a total of £401.50 in compensation – for the injuries and damage caused.

Warning Panes, Judge Taylor added: “Keep your nose clean because you know what will happen if you commit any further offences.”