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

A young man accused of unlawfully killing Chris Henchliffe has told a jury he 'threw a punch' at the former soldier as he feared he was going to harm his friend.

Saturday, 27th May 2017, 10:24 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:39 pm
Chris Henchliffe. Picture submitted by family.

Benjamin Edwards, 22, is on trial charged with the manslaughter of 26-year-old Mr Henchliffe, who died in hospital nine days after an incident outside the Pomegranate Theatre in Corporation Street, Chesterfield, last summer.

Giving evidence at Nottingham Crown Court today, 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 last year.

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

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The trial is being heard at Nottingham Crown Court.

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

Edwards, who works 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 trial is being heard at Nottingham Crown Court.

"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."

CCTV footage showed Mr Henchliffe allegedly being assaulted before a group of men, including Edwards, ran away from Corporation Street shortly after 4am.

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

Cross-examining Edwards, prosecutor Andrew Vout questioned: "You can't remember whether your fist connected 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'.

The friend, Joseph Bradfield, replied, 'I hope the guy's going to be OK. Consider owning up'.

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 didn't want people getting the wrong end of the stick.

"I can't explain how I felt at the time - I was scared, I was panicking.

"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."

Judge Stuart Rafferty QC is expected to sum up the evidence on Tuesday before the jury retires to consider its verdict.

Edwards denies manslaughter.

The trial continues.