A High Wycombe company director who sprayed innocent children in the face with a can of industrial strength oven cleaner has been jailed for a year.

Brian Ricketts, 62, went to his firm's van and selected the most powerful caustic substance before aiming it at the faces of innocent youngsters after mistakenly believing the group of boys and girls were the ones who had been rude to him moments earlier as he walked to his local shop.

The group of younger children responsible for upsetting him has never been caught, a judge was told.

The court heard that the divorcee grabbed a bottle of industrial oven cleaner and sprayed it into the faces of seven young people who were on their way home from the White Hart pub in Aylesbury End, Beaconsfield.

He was so upset after a group of young people harassed him on April 11 last year, that he went to his work van and armed himself with the spray, the judge heard.

The father-of-three ran his own deep cleaning company and knew the "Mr D" aerosol he grabbed from his van could cause serious injuries if it came into contact with the face or eyes.

Judge Thomas Rochford, sitting at Aylesbury Crown Court, told Ricketts: “What you did on that April evening was a very serious matter.

"It is particularly serious because, for some time, anybody who looks in a newspaper will be well aware that society is concerned about attacks, particularly by acid, but generally by noxious chemicals and the throwing or spraying of those on to people’s faces, and it is right that we are concerned about those.”

Prosecuting, David Povall told the court that Ricketts, in his determination to pay back the group of youths, ended up approaching an innocent party of sixth formers, boys and girls from two local schools, who had been in the White Hart pub.

Mr Povall said: “Shortly after 11pm, they left the public house and were outside making their farewells. They found themselves confronted with a small group of younger teenagers who were being confrontational and aggressive.

“That second group has not been identified but they were challenging the young people who had come out of the public house, asking the males to go somewhere for a fight.

“It may be the case, that that younger group had, very shortly before, had an unpleasant and deeply disrespectful encounter with Mr Ricketts, where some young people attempted to intimidate him and prevent him from going to a shop.

“While the group that had come from the public house were engaged, Mr Ricketts approached. He was shouting to calm down, or keep it down. The younger teenagers took to their heels but Mr Ricketts started to spray people from the group coming out of the public house with a spray from an aerosol can.”

The court was shown a brief CCTV clip which showed a dozen or so of the teenagers walking across a zebra crossing, and in the left hand side of the screen a girl could be seen having her face doused with the sodium hydroxide solution, before Ricketts could be seen marching into their midst and spraying the teens on either side of him.

Analysing the footage, Judge Rochford said: “He is seen walking briskly into the group rather than away from the group, and is seen spraying two bursts to the face, rather than clothes or lower down.

"A young lady with a light top and dark hair received a burst from off screen, she clearly reacted badly to that in a way that must have been obvious to the sprayer.”

Two teams of paramedics had to be dispatched to deal with the large number of victims, but the court heard, although the seven who took a burst of spray suffered pain and irritation, they had no permanent injuries or scaring.

Ricketts, of Holywell Gardens, Hatters Lane, had fled the scene in his van, but was arrested after police tracked down his registration number and he admitted applying a noxious substance with intent to injure, aggrieve or annoy after the Crown Prosecution Service accepted that he had not used pepper spray, as was initially thought.

Judge Rochford pointed out the use of pepper spray might have been less harmful and said: “This was not a pepper spray where there might be an argument that the effects of the pepper spray were known and were painful but were short term.

“You had no idea of what effect this chemical might have in the long term if sprayed in the face and the eyes of these people, but nevertheless you sprayed not one but seven of them.”

Defending Ricketts, Matthew Kirk told the judge how he had been through a difficult divorce which had hit his finances and drew attention to his son from his previous marriage who was sitting in court.

Mr Kirk added that Ricketts employed three people in his own deep cleaning business and was paying money to support his Russian wife and her daughter, who lived in Moscow.

Judge Rochford told Ricketts, who was in the dock in a grey blazer and red shirt, that his work in deep cleaning meant he must have known that the chemicals he had sprayed on his victims were toxic.

White-haired Ricketts was sentenced to one year in prison and he took a drink of water from his paper cup in the dock before he allowed himself to be cuffed and led away.