A SOLDIER elbowed a woman in the face after she accused him of rape near Tidworth in 2019.

But Fusilier Robert Hanlon, who was acquitted of rape by jurors earlier this year, was spared a prison sentence after a Winchester judge heard he would be automatically thrown out of the army if he were jailed or given a suspended prison sentence.

Imposing a two year community order for actual bodily harm, Judge Andrew Barnett told 21-year-old Hanlon he was taking “this somewhat exceptional course because it seems to me there is soldiering left in you if the army still want you – but that is by no means guaranteed”.

Hanlon had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to assaulting his victim but was found not guilty last month of raping the woman at Perham Down, near Tidworth, on January 20, 2019.

Sentencing him at Winchester Crown Court on Friday, Judge Barnett said by their verdict the jury found there was “no question” of the soldier forcing himself upon the woman sexually.

Hanlon had lashed out after his victim said he had raped her. He struck her to the face with his elbow “at least once”, leaving her with black eyes.

Judge Barnett told the soldier: “It is a nasty assault and counsel have been of great assistance in considering this with me.

“It seems to me it falls without a shadow of a doubt into the second category [in the sentencing guidelines], very much towards the top end of that because of the attack and the consequences of the attack.

“I do not consider that using an elbow is effectively a weapon but it was all part of the assault.

“That means I would be considering a sentence of imprisonment somewhere in the order of eight months or thereabouts.”

He noted the sentencing guidelines allowed him to impose a community order. The judge said he had read a letter from Hanlon’s lieutenant colonel that “paints a picture of your dedication to the service”.

Judge Barnett ordered the soldier complete 80 hours of unpaid work, the thinking skills programme and 15 rehabilitation activity requirement sessions as part of a two year community order. He must pay £1,500 compensation and £500 costs.

Earlier, Hanlon’s barrister, Jane Rowley, asked the judge to impose a community order, as a suspended sentence or immediate custody would result in the soldier’s immediate dismissal from the army. Her client was “truly remorseful and regrets his behaviour”.

She said: “This offence took place when he was 19. He was still young and away from home and although it is accepted ordinarily the court may have some sympathy in passing a suspended sentence order, to lower it to a community order in the circumstances of this case.”

Hanlon, of Blyth, Northumberland, pleaded guilty at the plea and trial preparation hearing to ABH. He had a number of convictions, including fines for common assaults in Canada in 2018.