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“This is my path”: Drunk who claimed right of way on towpath and hurled racist abuse at cyclist avoids jail

Stephen Robert Panes was given a suspended sentence for blocking path, racially abusing cyclist and causing her boyfriend to fall off his bike

A man who deliberately blocked the progress of two cyclists on a towpath, causing one to fall and racially abusing another, has been given a suspended sentence by Swindon Crown Court.

Sara Mirabassi and Luke Machin were cycling on the canal path between Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge on 22 July 2020 when they encountered Stephen Robert Panes, a 49-year-old with 25 previous convictions for 76 offences, reports the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald

As they approached Panes, who was drunk at the time, on a particularly narrow section of the path, the couple asked if they could pass him.

Panes instead blocked their way, shouting “this is my path”. He also deliberately impeded other cyclists who were using the path.

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Prosecutor Chris Smyth told the court that “the defendant took it that he had priority along the towpath, that cyclists should give way to him, despite the fact that they would be going faster than he was walking.

“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.” 

Miss Mirabassi, who was born in Iran, then attempted to pass Panes, who repeated the assertion that the path belonged to him, as “I was born here, I live here”.

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When the path widened enough to pass him, Panes shouted at the cyclist to “f**k off back to your own country”. As Mr Machin rode past, Panes hit him with his arm causing Machin to fall off his bike. He was treated in hospital for cuts to his hands, elbow and bicep, as well as a “nasty” grazed knee.

Despite the defendant’s plethora of previous offences, he was only given a suspended sentence. “Society is better off if you get help for your problems,” the judge told Panes.

The two cyclists told police that since the incident they now avoid riding their bikes on the canal towpath.

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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