A vicious attack in a town bar left a young man severely brain damaged for life. In a dramatic courtroom encounter, his family received an apology as the judge agonised over sending one of his assailants to prison – for fear he would emerge as a hardened gang member.

Kodie Waitapu called them gangster "wannabes".

The drunken insult, if you could call it that, changed his life forever and sent his three assailants, aged just 18 to 22, to prison.

A flurry of punches knocked Waitapu over a balcony rail and onto the first-storey roof of the Whakatane Hotel, a busy bar in the seaside Bay of Plenty town.

Unsatisfied with knocking him unconscious, the trio jumped over the railing to carry on the assault.

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Waitapu, defenceless against the relentless punches, kicks and stomps, tried crawling to safety.

Instead, the 31-year-old builder was forced closer and closer to the