A DRUNKEN thug who got a police community support officer in a headlock and challenged him to fight – but claimed it was a joke – has been locked up for 23 weeks.

Thomas Casey, 30, who was on a suspended jail term for battery at the time, sneaked up on the victim from behind in Bacup town centre, a No Alcohol Zone.

The officer, whose hat was knocked off, was left scratched. He had been on duty in St James Street, moving some drinkers, who had made members of the public feel intimidated, off the bus station.

Burnley magistrates heard Casey, said to have alcohol issues, had 17 previous offences on his record, including robbery, affray and police assault. He told police the PCSO must have been having a bad day and wanted to stitch him up.

The defendant, of Thorn Bank, Bacup, admitted assault by beating on June 4. The suspended sentence, imposed earlier this year, was 18 weeks, suspended for two years. The bench activated 15 weeks of it and imposed a further eight for the assault.

Tracy Yates, prosecuting, said the defendant approached the victim from behind, crouched down as if trying to sneak up on him.

The officer asked Casey what he was playing at and the defendant got him in a headlock. The officer pushed Casey away. Mrs Yates said as the victim moved back, the defendant, followed him, raising two clenched fists and saying: “Come on then, come on then.”

Police were called, Casey was arrested and claimed he had put his arm around the officer's neck in a joking manner.

Ben Leech, defending, said Casey, who hung around the town centre, saw the PCSO quite regularly and would say they seemed to get on.

He added: “The defendant says he had been having a laugh and joke with him before. He accepts going behind him and placing his arm around his neck in, he says, a playful manner “He believed the PCSO would see the funny side of things.”