A man who punched a soldier to the ground causing him to die later from a fractured skull did so in self-defence, an inquest heard today.
Private Matt Brooks, from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, died five days after the incident in a car park near Yates’s bar in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on May 13 2010.
The 18-year-old was serving in the Army’s Royal Logistics Corps and was enrolled on a course at HMS Sultan, in Gosport, at the time of his death.
Dean Aldcroft, 22, of Warwick Crescent, Portsmouth, was arrested and charged with his manslaughter, but the charge was later dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) because of insufficient evidence.
In police interviews read out at Southampton Coroner’s Court, Mr Aldcroft said he had an argument on the dance floor of the pub with Pte Brooks and that the soldier then head-butted him.
He said he did not hit him back, but his friend did punch Pte Brooks and all three were thrown out.
The hearing was shown CCTV footage of an angry Mr Aldcroft being ejected along with Pte Brooks from the pub and of the fight on the dance floor.
Moments later the men met up in a car park near the pub and Mr Aldcroft said Pte Brooks and two other friends came over.
‘His hands were up in front of him like a boxer. I should have run but I panicked. I thought ‘oh no, they are going to beat me up’,’ Mr Aldcroft said.
‘He (Pte Brooks) hit me first on the left cheek. It hurt. It was harder than the head-butt. I struck him once on the nose.’
He said he saw him stumble back but not hit the ground as he was rugby-tackled by someone.
Mr Aldcroft said he saw Pte Brooks lying on his back on the floor with blood coming from his nose.
‘I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t intend to put him in hospital like now - I didn’t intend that. I hit him in self-defence.”
A post-mortem examination found that 15-stone Pte Brooks was one-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit when the fight happened.
He died from a severe head injury that fractured his skull as his head hit a hard surface in a fall or an accelerated fall, pathologist Basil Purdue said.
He also had a fractured cheek bone and it was found that ‘severe force’ had been used.
He had no bruising to his knuckles, but Dr Purdue explained it was perfectly possible to punch someone without causing damage to the hand.
Also in the interviews, Mr Aldcroft denied he had been the aggressor, that he had hit Pte Brooks first, or that he had kicked him when he was down despite several witnesses telling police that was the case.
The inquest is expected to last five days.
Pte Brooks’ parents said in a statement at the time they were ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the CPS decision.
‘Aldcroft has claimed self-defence. Unfortunately there is no CCTV covering the area of the car park where the second incident took place.
‘We feel betrayed by the UK justice system,’ the statement said.