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By Paul Ainsworth

A NORTH Belfast man who was kicked unconscious by an unknown gang has spent his 21st birthday in hospital after receiving the severe beating on the Cliftonville Road.

Thomas Cunningham suffered head injuries, including a badly swollen eye after a group of up to four men jumped on his head during an attack in Brookhill Avenue on Tuesday night.

The unprovoked assault occurred as he was walking back from a friend’s own birthday celebrations, towards his Ponsonby Avenue home. The cowardly gang attacked him from behind, punching, kicking and stamping the young Newington man until he blacked out. During the vicious assault his attackers taunted their victim as they kicked and stamped him as he lay helpless on the ground.

His father Malachy described how he opened the door to find his battered and bruised son, who had managed to stumble home after the attack.

Brave Thomas refused to go for treatment but the following morning his injuries had become so prominent his father accompanied him to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“He’d had a few drinks at his friends’ in Butler Walk, and was dropped off at Cliftonville at around 11 so he could call into another friend’s house to say hello,” Malachy said.

“He’d said his goodbyes and was walking along the street when he suddenly heard footsteps fast approaching from behind. Before he could even turn around he was being punched, and within seconds he was on the ground, where they began kicking him. “They began jeering him, and he could hear one of them repeating over and over again ‘Does this hurt, you bastard?’ He was terrified, they even jumped on his head until he blacked out.”

Malachy described his horror as his son, who should have been celebrating his own 21st birthday, arrived home in his devastating state.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I opened the door and he was standing there covered in blood and his eye terribly swollen. He had awoke in the street to find the gang had gone and made his way home. He wouldn’t go to the hospital straight away as he was in shock and refused to go outside again so we waited until early morning and went to the Royal.”

Malachy added that his family are praying Thomas suffers no lasting damage from the assault.

“This was totally unprovoked, and I don’t know how anyone could be so vicious towards a complete stranger. It’s disgusting,” said his horrified dad.

A PSNI spokeswoman confirmed they are investigating the assault and appealed for witnesses or anyone with information to come forward.

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