A TEENAGER who mugged a cabbie has won his freedom in a bid to "make a man out of him" and stop him offending.

Joseph McDonald had a long record even though he was only 17 and Judge Beverley Lunt said structured assistance from the Probation Service could be just what he needed.

Burnley Crown Court heard how the defendant had stole victim Syed Kazmi's money bag and punched him.

The judge warned the defendant: "People who attack taxi drivers in this town must expect a custodial sentence.

"The courts are going to protect taxi drivers. They are serving the public during unsociable hours."

But she then spared him jail, saying support could help "make a man out of him".

McDonald, of Nairne Street, Burnley, admitted robbery, last August.

He was given an 18 month suspended sentence of detention with a 90 day intensive supervision and surveillance programme and a three month curfew, between 8pm and 8am.

Jeremy Grout-Smith, prosecuting, told the court Mr Kazmi, who worked for Kings Taxis of Burnley, picked up two men in the early hours from the taxi office.

During the journey he was concerned about the behaviour of the two men who were whispering together in the back street and giving false instructions.

When they arrived at their destination, the man in the front passenger seat got out, slammed the door hard and threw a bottle at the taxi.

Mr Grout-Smith said the defendant got out and approached the driver's door and there was a tug of war between them.

McDonald managed to open the door and pretended he wanted to use the cigarette lighter, the victim told him it wasn't working and the defendant then punched him hard twice.

He then grabbed hold of Mr Kazmi's money bag which he had had in his lap and which he had been trying to hide.

The prosecutor said an "ugly" incident then followed, with a number of youths gathered around, throwing stones at the taxi. Mr Kazmi drove off and called police.

Mr Grout-Smith said the bag and cash were later recovered from the defendant's flat.

He was interviewed and said he had been taking cannabis and drinking that night.

The defendant had previous convictions for damge, threatening behaviour and burglaries and had been to custody.

Hugh Barton, defending, said it was putting it mildy to say McDonald had had a turbulent upbringing.

He said McDonald had resolved that his behaviour could not go on. He was now almost 18 and knew the future was longer and longer sentences if he continued to drink to excess.

Mr Barton said the defendant had got a job two months before the offence, had stopped drinking because of the hours and it had given him satisfaction.