Benjamin Edwards guilty of manslaughter of Chris Henchliffe

Chris Henchliffe. Picture submitted by family.
Chris Henchliffe. Picture submitted by family.

Benjamin Edwards has been jailed for the manslaughter of former soldier Chris Henchliffe.

This afternoon, a jury unanimously ruled that Edwards, 22, was guilty of unlawfully killing Mr Henchliffe, who died in hospital nine days after an altercation outside the Pomegranate Theatre in Corporation Street, Chesterfield, last summer.

Edwards, of Fieldview Place, Chesterfield, was sentenced to five-and-a-half-years in prison by Judge Stuart Rafferty QC.

During a six-day trial at Nottingham Crown Court, the prosecution said Edwards punched Mr Henchliffe, 26, outside the theatre in an 'act of aggression' - following a row over a spilt drink during a night out.

Edwards denied manslaughter and argued he 'threw a punch' at Mr Henchliffe as he feared he was going to harm his friend.

Dad-of-one Mr Henchliffe, who lived on Maynard Road, Chesterfield, served with the Yorkshire Regiment and completed a tour of Afghanistan.

Edwards 'lied', court heard

CCTV footage appeared to show Mr Henchliffe being assaulted before a group of men, including Edwards, ran away from Corporation Street shortly after 4am on July 3 last year.

Mr Henchliffe fell 'heavily' to the floor and suffered a catastrophic head injury, the court heard.

Questioning Edwards on Friday, prosecutor Andrew Vout asked: "Did your fist connect with Chris Henchliffe?"

Edwards replied: "I'm not going to say it didn't and I can't say it did.

"My hand was OK.

"I threw a punch and I didn't feel it connecting with him."

On the afternoon of July 3, Mr Vout said, Edwards saw a Facebook post by Zoey Henchliffe appealing for information about the incident involving her brother hours earlier.

According to Mr Vout, Edwards sent a Facebook message to a friend saying, 'don't report anything about last night. I might be getting sent down' and, 'he's in a coma, not dead'.

Mr Vout said: "You tried to cover your tracks, didn't you, Benjamin Edwards?"

Edwards said: "At the time, I didn't know if it was anything to do with me, I didn't know if it was my incident or not.

"I wish I'd never sent those messages."

Mr Vout said Edwards was arrested on July 4.

He added: "In the police station, you didn't identify it was you who threw the punch.

"Do you agree that you were lying to the police?"

Edwards responded: "No, I wasn't 100 per cent sure it was me."

Mr Vout said: "You picked on a man who was off his guard, you hit him hard, you knocked him out - it was an act of aggression.

"You ran off knowing there was going to be trouble.

"When the police caught up with you, you lied."

Edwards replied: "No, sir."

Edwards: 'I threw punch at Chris Henchliffe to defend my friend'

Giving evidence, Edwards told how he was in Moo Bar in Corporation Street with four of his friends, Joseph Whittaker, James Wisternoff, Paddy Weston and Mick Loftus, during the early hours of July 3.

He said he was 'merry, happy and having a really good night, a lovely night' but would not describe himself as drunk.

Edwards claimed Mr Henchliffe, who was also in Moo Bar on a night out with friends, 'launched' a drink at Joseph Whittaker and Mr Wisternoff's sister, Clarissa Wisternoff, before a bouncer 'ejected' Mr Henchliffe.

Edwards, who worked in customer service, said: "I thought the lads were going home so I went outside and had a chat with them.

"I saw James Wisternoff having a conversation with a man so I went over and stood by him - I didn't know it was the guy from the bar (Mr Henchliffe), I thought he was James's friend.

"They were mentioning the spilt drink and at that point it became clear the man was the guy from the bar.

"The conversation started to get a little bit heated - he was boasting about being military trained and puffing out his chest.

"When Clarissa came across, she said, 'why did you do that?' referring to the spilt drink.

"He asked her why she got him chucked out and he kept saying, 'lying b***h'.

"I didn't say a word throughout this and I had my hands in my pockets."

Edwards said there was 'a bit of a scuffle' between 6ft 5ins Mr Henchliffe and Mr Wisternoff before Terry Goodwin, a Moo Bar doorman, led Mr Wisternoff away up the road.

Edwards, who is 5ft 6ins, added: "As he was marching him up the street, I saw Chris Henchliffe walking towards them.

"I shouted, 'leave it'.

"He started sprinting.

"I thought my friend was going to get hurt, I thought he was going to get punched from behind - I feared for James's safety.

"Chris Henchliffe's fist was raised above his head - it was clenched.

"You could see he was fuming and aggressive.

"I didn't plan what I was going to do, I just threw my arm in the air."

Defence solicitor Adrian Langdale asked: "Can you say whether your fist, hand or arm connected with Chris Henchliffe?"

Edwards replied: "I can't confirm that.

"I don't recall making contact with him.

"It all happened so quickly."

Mr Langdale asked: "Were you aware of Chris Henchliffe falling?"

Edwards answered: "I can't remember.

"Someone shouted, 'run' - so I fled.

"I was scared - I thought he (Mr Henchliffe) was going to get back up and rip my head off."

'Everyone loved Chris'

Speaking after Mr Henchliffe's death, his mother, Yvonne Henchliffe, paid a touching tribute.

She said: "Chris had served in the army in the Yorkshire Regiment and did a tour of Afghanistan.

"He left the army two months ago to pursue a life in civvy street and found a great job at Vesuvius, which he loved.

"Chris was a marvellous daddy to five-year-old Tyler and supported his mum Natalie in many ways because Tyler is autistic.

"He was a crazy, wonderful son, grandson, brother and uncle and always kept any atmosphere alive with his cheeky grin and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"Chris loved going to the gym with his brother James and playing Xbox with his youngest brother Luke.

"He had a brilliant relationship with his sister Zoey.

"To be honest, everyone loved Chris.

"He also loved music and dancing and the nightlife as many of his friends could tell you.

"When we got the call about Chris I rushed to the hospital with his brother James - we never dreamed it would be so bad.

"Our heartache began at that moment.

"When Chris was in his coma the whole family stayed at the hospital.

"We knew he would recover so we bought lots of things for him for when he woke up as we knew he would be in hospital for a very long time.

"Chris was in Ward K of neurocritical care at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.

"My goodness, those nurses have been taught by angels and act like angels.

"The dignity they gave Chris was beyond any job description.

"Many times through the night we rang - in fact one time the nurses were blowing kisses to him at the bottom of his bed for me.

"We never imagined the cruel heartbreak that was approaching us.

"We were sat down by the consultants and told Chris had had a stroke and that his life support would be switched off.

"The following day we took some handprints for Tyler and ourselves - then it was time.

"Usually it would take up to three hours - we sat by his side, all the family.

"We cried, we talked to him, we begged for a miracle.

"Time went on.

"Chris's body was so strong and fit that he just carried on living.

"It was about 19 hours later that he finally took his last beautiful breath.

"My children and family never left his side.

"We are so numb.

"We were so in love with Chris that we can’t console each other - the pain of those 19 hours have ripped our souls apart.

"We are such a strong family.

"To this day the nurses are in touch - they got to know him through our stories.

"So, broken as we are, the only thing we are united in is that we wouldn’t want any other family to experience anything we went through because of a night out on the town.

"If anyone is going to drink then remember Chris.

"He'd had a drink that night and strayed from his friends.

"We've received outstanding support from the police.

"Family liaison officers have been sent to us and helped in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

"And Chris’s friends have been a Godsend to us - in fact the town got behind Chris’s story, which amazed and touched us deeply.

"We have also received great support from the Yorkshire Regiment.

"We never expected or knew how much Chris and his family meant to so many people."

Updates will follow.

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