For three years, the victim of a vicious thug waited in vain to see his attacker brought to justice.
Tom Walter, a 17-year-old junior England basketball international, was beaten so badly that his face has to be held together with a metal plate in the cheek and four pins in his eye socket.
The culprit, Kenneth Saw, was arrested but Lincolnshire police then forgot about the case even though he himself tried to remind them about it.
He is a free man after a judge criticised officers for the "appalling" blunders which forced him to spare Saw from a jail sentence.
Mr Walter was studying for a sports diploma at Chelmsford College in Essex and had won three caps for the England Under-18 basketball team when he was attacked in June 2003 outside a nightclub in Stamford, Lincolnshire. He was pushed against a wall and punched in the face, the blow knocking his head against the wall and sending him to the ground.
Saw kicked him in the ribs and the chin as he lay helpless then left "in a jovial mood", Lincoln Crown Court heard.
Saw was arrested and later tried to answer bail only to find the police station was shut at the specified time he was told to report there.
His solicitor wrote to the force four times asking when he should answer bail but received no reply and assumed no further action was being taken.
He was detained by chance this year after his details were eventually put on the Police National Computer and an off-duty officer spotted him shopping in a supermarket. Saw, 22, admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm but was spared prison because of the delays in bringing the case to court.
Recorder David Farrell QC said: "The police just left it. It is appalling. No positive steps were taken to arrest somebody who at that time was potentially dangerous."
Saw, of Stamford, was given a two-year suspended jail term and told to pay ?1,500 compensation to Mr Walter plus ?239 prosecution costs.
The judge told Saw: "In normal circumstances the sentence for this behaviour, if I had dealt with you at the time, would have been in the order of two or three years.
"Through no fault of yours, it is now three years later that you find yourself in court, and you have effectively been out of trouble for three years.
"You don't behave now as you did then. At that time you were a drunken yob. You have matured. This is a case where there are exceptional circumstances." Mr Walter, now 20, of Chelmsford, said: "I was planning to go to the States on a scholarship to play college basketball and was hoping to go on to be a professional. But that has all gone as a result of this attack.
"All I wanted was justice. I don't want money. He should have gone to jail, but he has walked away because of the police messing things up."
His father Kevin, 48, added: "During the last three years I have been in constant contact with the police, but they have just fobbed me off.
"They just didn't do their job. Saw should be doing two or three years for the damage he did to my son."
Laughing as he left court after sentencing on Friday, Saw, a disc jockey, said: "I'm very lucky. It's only the incompetence of the police that has kept me out of jail."
A Lincolnshire Police spokesman insisted all inquiries had been completed before the matter was effectively forgotten, but conceded: "It wasn't ideal."