A decorated senior constable was left with a broken jaw and permanent double vision after sympathising with a prisoner and fetching food for him.

Napier Walker, 24, was sentenced in Napier District Court today to three years and six months in jail for attacking Senior Constable Paul Symonds in a Hastings court holding cell, after Symonds had brought him food.

The attack took place five days before Christmas, and Walker was consequently charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent to injure, injuring a non-police authorised officer on court duty, and obstructing police.

Symonds, who at the time of the assault was a few weeks short of retiring from the police after 30 years' service, had an eye socket fractured, his jaw broken and a tooth chipped in the assault, which required two surgery procedures and left him with permanent double-vision.

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A second victim was assaulted as he intervened and suffered a torn rib cartilage and other injuries, while his glasses were broken during the incident.

Today, the court was told Symonds, an officer decorated for bravery in the aftermath of a gunman's shooting of three fellow senior constables in Napier nine years ago, accepted a written apology from Walker, whom he had known for about 10 years.

Judge Arthur Tompkins reckoned Walker barely deserved the officer's indulgence.

The judge said the apology, in one of separate letters to the victims, came too late for any special consideration in minimising the sentence.

Walker had also pleaded guilty only after a sentencing indication hearing which was held last month, more than six months after the attack.

Walker was already in prison after being sentenced on burglary and other charges moments before the attack last Christmas.

Outlining the assault, Judge Hopkins said Walker became angry with the sentence, as it was worse than he had expected.

To placate him, the officers agreed to get him something to eat but when they returned to the holding cell where he had been brooding, Walker used his foot to block them getting out and started the attack with punches and kicks.

The judge highlighted the aggravating factors, particularly the impact on two officers who were treating Walker "perhaps" far better than he had deserved.