A gay man who touched a female police officer’s bottom in a gay bar because he thought it was a joke has avoided a custodial sentence after pleading guilty to a charge of common assault.

Jonathan Walton, 38, of Hemlington, Middlesbrough, was cleared of sexual assault at Teesside Crown Court on Friday.

The court heard Walton was in a gay bar last year when officers came in to deal with a fight between two other people.

Gazette Live reports as the female officer walked through the bar, she felt someone grab her bottom. Prosecutor Rupert Doswell said she then turned around to see three men present, including Walton.

Having given the men “strong words of advice” Walton later went up to the female officer outside of the venue and apologised.

He said: “I just wanted to apologise for what I did in there. It was just a daft laugh.”

When she told her colleague, Walton was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault in October last year.

The court heard how he said he didn’t know she was a police officer at the time and there was nothing sexual in his actions, as he was gay.

The 38-year-old denied sexual assault and was scheduled to stand trial this week until prosecutors accepted his guilty plea to a charge of common assault. Walton had only one previous conviction, for a public order offence.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, told Walton: “There’s a police officer going about her job, and it’s a difficult enough job as it is without people like you making it harder.

“What you did, I have absolutely no doubt, was done by you by way of a joke.

“It was very much a misplaced joke. I’m not surprised she didn’t see the funny side of it, but it was not done in any way with any sexual intent.

“But it is an offence because you touched her, assaulted her without her consent. It’s a common assault.”

Walton was given an 18-month conditional discharge.