A 13-year-old boy punched a man in the stomach then watched as another teenager viciously struck him in the head with a wooden fence paling during a brutal assault in Dapto, a court has heard.
The Wollongong teen, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of four young men allegedly involved in the violent attack, which left the 19-year-old victim with a life-threatening brain injury.
Giving evidence in Wollongong District Court yesterday, the boy, now 15, said he had simply followed the lead of his older co-offenders, in a desperate attempt to fit in.
"I was scared of fighting ... I was following the big boys, I [just] wanted to be part of the group," he said.
The teen and the three co-accused, who also cannot be named, travelled to Dapto on February 25 last year, to attend a party but police were shutting down the event when they arrived so they decided to go to the train station.
The group started walking through a nearby park when they came across the victim and his friends, the court heard.
The victim, who was intoxicated, started speaking to them but quickly headed off in the opposite direction. The teens started hurling abuse at the victim, to which he replied: "Come around the corner."
The two groups traded insults before the victim started walking towards the teens with a mate trailing closely behind.
The teens continued yelling out as the victim walked into a front yard and allegedly picked up a roof tile. One of the teens then started pulling fence palings off a timber fence, allegedly handing one to the teen.
The group then ran back towards the victim before one boy allegedly grabbed him in a bear hug and threw him to the ground while two others threatened the victim's friend with metal poles.
It is alleged one of the co-accused then struck the victim across the head with the paling before the teens chased the victim's friend, eventually stopping and leaving the scene.
The victim was taken to Wollongong Hospital where he underwent emergency brain surgery.
He was in a coma for several days and had to have a titanium plate inserted into his skull.
The teen, who pleaded guilty to recklessly causing grievous bodily harm in company, admitted to hitting the man in the stomach during the assault but denied striking him with the fence paling.
Defence barrister Robert Steward told the court the teen had not set out to injure the man.
Mr Steward said his client had not committed any further offences and was keen to continue his schooling.
Judge Paul Conlon deferred his sentence until next week.
The judge yesterday rejected the guilty plea proffered by another co-offender, adjourning the matter to November 8, while a third co-accused has pleaded not guilty to the incident and is set to stand trial next year.
A fourth co-offender has pleaded guilty and is expected to be sentenced in December.