ONE moment he was a fun-loving student with his whole life in front of him.
The next he was lying on a nightclub floor, injured by a reckless doorman who has left him paralysed from the neck down.
Confined to a specially-adapted wheelchair, John Jones looked on yesterday as the man responsible for shattering his life was jailed.
His reaction was to wish that he could swap places with Andrew Lee,who was convicted last month of causing him grievous bodily harm.
Sipping a bottle of water through a straw held by his girlfriend Aslihan, John told the Daily Echo: “I’d gladly swap what he’s got for what I’ve got in a second – I’d happily do four years in prison.”
Having someone with him to tend to his every need 24 hours a day – from scratching an itch to cleaning his teeth – is now the reality for the 22-year-old who had been studying a degree at Southampton Solent University and had aspirations to be a sports journalist.
John and Aslihan were out with their friends at KAOS nightclub in St Mary’s Road, Southampton, when tragedy struck in February last year – at the brutal hands of doorman Andrew Lee who grabbed him while the couple stood in a corridor and put him in a full nelson hold.
John was marched towards the exit before they both fell, causing John to break his neck.
Southampton Crown Court heard that Lee was a martial arts obsessive who bragged and showed video footage on his web page of gratuitous violence he inflicted on others. He had denied responsibility for John’s injuries.
Yesterday, as the 31-year-old was sent down for four years for what the judge described as a “premeditated and reckless assault”, John told of his relief that such an enormous hurdle had passed.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Echo, he said: “It’s been hard. It was especially frustrating listening to his lies day after day. I am pleased now that it is over and with the sentence he has got.
“Obviously I would swap what he’s got for what I’ve got in a second. I’d gladly do four years in prison compared to this.”
John’s mum Julie isn’t surprised by her eldest son’s calm and reflective nature – it’s how he has always been through his life.
In fact it’s his demeanour that helps her put on a brave face and attempt to keep her emotions in check.
The mum of three – John has two younger brothers Alex, 20, and Elly, 14, – said: “I still struggle to believe what has actually happened – it still seems quite surreal. You can only hope for the best for your children – all I ever wanted was for them to get a decent job and have a decent life.
“Since this happened I have changed as a person, I don’t have much patience with anyone except my boys. I try to be patient with them because of the situation we find ourselves in.”
Talking of how her tolerance levels are lower with other people, she said: “I will listen, but my mind keeps thinking ‘You don’t understand what it’s like’.
“I try to put myself in John’s position, this puts matters into perspective, but I worry a lot more about things – I worry about John and what the future holds for him, especially when I’m not here anymore.
“I would give anything to turn back the clock and make that man, the one who did this, make a different decision or a different choice of action.
“I would swap places in an instant so that he could get on with his degree, with his life.”
Since the accident, John has always been determined to live as independently as possible – despite needing a carer 24 hours a day.
Julie added: “I worried about that because I want to be able to take care of him. I know he’s a grown man but I can’t stop or help caring like a mum.
“I think I’m good at hiding my feelings in front of John and I try really hard not to show it if I’m upset. Alex and Elly always say ‘He’s going to walk again isn’t he?’ and I never tell them yes or no, I just say it will take a very long time.”
Only once has Julie allowed herself to break down in front of her two youngest children, when John’s hospital bed was delivered to the family home.
“It was the realisation it was real but it must have been horrible for them to see me like that.”
Julie added: “I don’t sleep well and I am constantly thinking of John and things I need to sort out for him. I can only describe my feelings as broken hearted.
John is a good kid, a typical boy but never been in trouble or hurt anyone. Nobody deserves to be going through this.
“It breaks my heart seeing him, who was so independent, unable to do anything, even the smallest thing like scratching an itch or moving his hands for himself. I have not felt anger yet, just real sadness. I just wish it had never happened.”
■ John and Julie Jones said they would like to thank family and friends for their support and in particular the efforts of officers from Hampshire police and prosecuting barrister William Mousley for their help in securing justice.