Swindon’s first crown court trial since March was over before it even began – with the defendant admitting his part in an early hours attack in Old Town.

David Fowles had been due to stand trial this week on a charge of racially-aggravated assault causing actual bodily harm.

The 22-year-old was with co-defendant Rhys Warren at around 4am on December 7 when he was seen in Wood Street attacking the male victim. Fowles was said to have used a racist slur, calling the victim a “p**i”.

A jury was ready to be sworn in to hear the evidence in the man’s trial, but shortly after 11am on Monday morning he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.

Nicholas Clough, defending, said his client was pleading to the racially-aggravated assault on a basis that he had been acting in self-defence. He admitted causing the injuries to the victim.

Fowles, of Johnson Avenue, Brackley, Northamptonshire, was said to have recently lost his job.

His co-accused, Rhys Warren, 22, of Ash Grove, Pinehurst, has already admitted assault.

Judge Peter Crabtree bailed Fowles, who will be sentenced with Warren on August 7. “It’s a serious offence. Any racially aggravated offence is serious, especially at the moment. The starting point is custody, but I’ll ask probation to look at the other options. I’m not promising anything.”

Barrister David Stanton appeared for the Crown.

After the hearing, the judge quipped it had been a “rather short trial”.

Court staff had made extensive preparations to ensure the larger courtroom one at Swindon Crown Court was ready for the resumption of jury trials.

All but 12 seats in the public gallery and jury benches had been taped off, to make sure jurors were able to comply with social distancing rules.The courtroom itself was not open to members of the public and press, who were able to watch proceedings virtually via HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s Skype-like Cloud Video Platform.

The number of outstanding trials at Swindon Crown Court is unknown. However, according to the most recent statistics published by the Ministry of Justice shows there was a backlog of 154 cases at the Swindon court at the end of March.

Nationally, there is a backlog of around half a million cases in the criminal courts. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who is also Swindon’s MP, said last week he had drawn up a list of 10 possible locations for so-called Nightingale courts – pop-up courtrooms in places like theatres and auditoriums that are capable of hosting larger jury trials.