A STUDENT who hit a woman over the head with a laughing gas canister has avoided an immediate spell behind bars.

Usman Hussain was with a group of friends by Pickmere Lake, between Northwich and Knutsford, on May 31 last year, when an argument escalated.

The 20-year-old pleaded guilty to assaulting a woman, occasioning her actual bodily harm, on the basis he had been provoked by being racially abused by the complainant.

The university student, of Farmside Close in Warrington, was appearing at Chester Crown Court on Friday, November 19, where a judge told him he was fortunate to have his eight-month custodial sentence suspended for two years.

Nardeen Nemat, prosecuting, told the court Hussain struck the woman on the back of the head with the canister after a fight had broken out between him, his girlfriend and the complainant.

She said: "It was around 4.30pm and the group of friends had been drinking by the lake.

"One of the girls asked for a cigarette and was told by another male to get one out of his bag.

"When she went over to the bag, which was on the floor next to the defendant, he told her to get out of his friends bag, not knowing she had been given permission.

"An argument ensued, which also involved the defendant’s girlfriend.

"The two girls ended up having a fight, which had to be broken up by the rest of the group."

Despite the warring factions being split up, the dispute continued and the girl is said to have sworn and spat at Hussain, before hurling a racist comment at him.

"It was at that point Hussain hit her over the head with a nitrous oxide canister," Ms Nemat added.

"The blow caused a wound to her head and she lost consciousness.

"She was taken to Warrington hospital by ambulance, but fortunately she sustained no long-term serious injury."

Simon Parry, defending, said his client was 'ashamed' of his behaviour and had been able to view the incident in the proper light, in the months after it happened.

He said: "I can say it was wholly out of character, but there had been a measure of provocation.

"There had been quite a bit of aggression on the complainant's part and a racial slur.

"He is in his first year at university and is old enough to know right from wrong."

Judge Mark Brown, said he was mindful of Hussain's age and previous good character when suspending an immediate spell behind bars.

He said: "Clearly this was a wholly unsavoury incident, which was blown up out of nothing.

"Obviously nothing can justify her using a racial slur.

"Equally, it was wrong of you to hit her over the head, fortunately no serious injury was sustained.

"However there had been an element of provocation which means you will avoid immediate detention.

"I hope you realise you've been fortunate."

Hussain must complete 120 hours of unpaid work and was told to pay a surcharge to fund victim services of £156.