It was a week of mixed emotions for assault victim Gary Carter. As he was preparing to go home after three months in hospital and begin a long road to recovery, his attacker was starting a two-year sentence for grievous bodily harm.

The motive for the assault in Bethnal Green, has never been fully established but as Gary’s head struck the pavement in Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, two lives were changed in an instant.

November 6 last year saw rugby writer Gary come to London from Greater Manchester for the England v New Zealand match at the Olympic Stadium. He was drinking quietly in the Star of Bethnal Green pub when he had a brief, seemingly inconsequential encounter with James Flanagan, 35, of Marsden Street, Kentish Town.

Later, in the street they met again. What follows, say the police, was a “despicable and unprovoked attack, aggravated by the cowardly deception employed by Flanagan to take the victim off guard”.

That deception was an offer by Flanagan to shake his head. As Gary put out his own hand in response, there followed another volley of blows that left the journalist in a coma and fighting for his life.

His wife, Gemma, rushed to his bedside at the Royal London Hospital and friends and family rallied round as Gary, a popular figure in rugby circles, came to terms with his extensive injuries and lengthy programme of physiotherapy.

James Flanagan: Jailed for the assault

But as Flanagan received his sentence at Snaresbrook Crown Court after admitting causing GBH, there was no bitterness from his victim. “If you’re after a rant, you’re in the wrong place,” Gary wrote on his Facebook page. “Two years was about what we said would be the sentence. So there’s nothing more to add on that.”

He added: “Family were outstanding but most of all thank you to my amazing wife Gemma Carter for her constant love and support over what must have been, frankly, a hellacious time for her.

PC Angus Handley from Tower Hamlets said: “Flanagan’s actions have caused irreparable damage to the victim’s life. He now faces a long road to recovery. This attack has had a devastating impact on the victim’s friends and family. I can only hope today’s sentence serves as some small comfort to them.”

A 22-year-old man who allegedly interfered with paramedics when they were treating Gary has been charged with common assault, obstructing an emergency worker and a public order offence and will appear before Stratford magistrates in May.

Gary and Gemma Carter