A police detective inspector on her way to the airport for a Spanish holiday had her plans ruined when her nose was broken by a thug who punched her in the face.

On Tuesday, the assailant escaped with a six months jail sentence when he admitted causing actual bodily harm and damaging a police cell – a decision criticised by the Police Federation.

The attack happened at Abergele when 30-year-old Nathan Joseph Killilea was stopped in the early hours of Monday by officers including off-duty Det Insp Rebecca Hughes after reports that a man had been trying house doors. Det Insp Hughes had been waiting outside her home for a lift to the airport.

Killilea, of Abergele, must pay the victim £500 compensation and the police £150 for the damaged cell after he appeared in the dock at Caernarfon Magistrates Court.

Instead of heading for the airport the detective inspector was taken to Glan Clwyd Hospital. She also had a deep cut to the eye and will face surgery next week for her nose to be realigned.

Police described it as a vicious assault. Det Chief Insp Neil Harrison said: “This was a really nasty attack on a police officer who was acting in the best interests of the public whilst off duty. The individual had the opportunity to make off but instead chose to attack the officer causing serious face injuries.

“The incident not only further demonstrates the risk that officers put themselves in on a daily basis to protect the public both on and off duty but also highlights the propensity to attack officers carrying out their duty.”

The court’s decision was criticised by Richard Eccles, secretary of the Police Federation in North Wales.

He said: “This officer was off duty and on her way to a family holiday when she came across this male engaged in criminality. By confronting him in an effort to protect her community she has a right and an expectation of protection by the courts.

“In this case it is fair to say that those expectations have not been met and this sends out the wrong message to those upholding the law, facing violence on a daily basis. It also sends out a message to those who assault police and other emergency service workers that their actions will not attract an appropriate level of punishment.

“The decision of the court not to pass this matter to the crown court is a difficult one to comprehend or accept, given the nature of the assault and the injuries inflicted.”