Sledgehammer-wielding car vandal, 25, was ‘unlawfully killed’ by mechanic, 33, who put him in headlock and performed citizen’s arrest after finding Audi with smashed windows, inquest rules

  • Christopher Walters, 25, was chased by Jonathan Hassall and Benjamin Hunt
  • They suspected he smashed windows to an Audi at the garage they worked at 
  • An inquest heard Hunt restrained Mr Walters by the neck for several minutes
  • Mr Walters went into cardiac arrest and was later pronounced dead in hospital 
  • In 2021, Hunt was jailed for 38 months after pleading guilty to his manslaughter
  • His colleague Mr Hassall took his own life days before he was due to go on trial 

A man suspected of vandalising a car was ‘unlawfully killed’ by a mechanic who put him in a headlock and performed a citizen’s arrest, an inquest has ruled.  

Christopher Walters, 25, was chased by garage boss Jonathan Hassall and mechanic Benjamin Hunt after he used a sledgehammer to smash the windows to an Audi in Longton, Staffordshire, in May 2019.

An inquest heard Hunt restrained Mr Walters by the neck for several minutes, using his body weight to pin him down even after Mr Walters lost consciousness.

Mr Walters went into cardiac arrest, the inquest heard, and he was later pronounced dead at Royal Stoke University Hospital.

In 2021, Hunt, from Longton, was jailed for 38 months after admitting his manslaughter. Mr Hassall, who worked with Hunt at the New Road Garage and was also involved in the incident, took his own life just days before he was due to go on trial.

Christopher Walters (pictured), who was suspected of vandalising a car, was ‘unlawfully killed’ by a mechanic who put him in a headlock and performed a citizen’s arrest, an inquest has heard

In 2021, Benjamin Hunt (pictured), from Longton, was jailed for 38 months after admitting Mr Walters’ manslaughter

An inquest in North Staffordshire heard that on May 15, 2019, the two men were at work when Mr Walters ran up and used a sledgehammer to smash the windows of an Audi A3 belonging to Mr Hassall’s son.

Hunt and Mr Hassall chased after Mr Walters and followed him down a path near Gladstone Primary Academy.

Pupils taking part in a PE lesson reported seeing Mr Walters running down the path, out of breath and ‘hugging’ a sledgehammer while others followed in pursuit.

Hunt and Mr Hassall were able to detain him nearby.

One witness, Ricky Amos, was driving past when he spotted Mr Walters lying down on the ground.

In a statement, he said: ‘The others were on top of him.’

He said Mr Hunt had his arms around Mr Walters’ neck, and added: ‘He had a tight grip of the man’s neck. The man was struggling to worm himself out.’

Mr Amos said he saw one of the males holding the sledgehammer in the air before hitting Mr Walters’ legs with it.

Another passing driver, Michelle Leese, said in a statement: ‘I remember just seeing arms everywhere.’

She also recalled seeing one of the men pick up the sledgehammer. At that point, she told her daughter, who was also in the car, to call the police.

But the use of the hammer was later disputed by Hunt. 

Pleading guilty to manslaughter, Hunt said he deployed a headlock, but claimed neither he nor Mr Hassall had used weapons.

Forensic pathologist Dr Alexander Kolar, who carried out the post-mortem, noted injuries to the legs, but no evidence of blunt force trauma. He concluded the cause of death was due to compression of the neck.

Tests also showed Mr Walters, of Winchester Avenue, Bentilee, had used cannabis at some point before his death.

The inquest heard police were on their way to the scene, having been called to reports of the vehicle damage, when they were told the suspect was being restrained by members of the public. 

Sergeant Anthony McKenzie, the first officer on scene, said he saw Mr Walters being held by Hunt, but said the ‘grip did not appear to be firm’. He told Hunt to release the man.

Sergeant McKenzie began checking Mr Walters for a pulse. It was at this point that PCSO Toni Foyle was driving past and stopped to help.

She said: ‘Sergeant McKenzie shouted to the male, “Are you alright, mate”. As he did this, the male’s face moved slightly. I saw his lips were blue and he had grass in his mouth.

‘I knelt down, putting him in the recovery position. I said, “This man needs an ambulance urgently”. I started chest compressions.’

The inquest heard police referred the incident to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) after it was established there was a gap of one minute and 47 seconds between police arriving on scene and CPR being administered. 

North Staffordshire assistant coroner Sarah Murphy described the time as ‘reasonable’ considering police did not have the full facts when they arrived.  

Police at the scene in Longton, Staffordshire, on May 15, 2019, the day of Mr Walters’ death

Addressing the inquest, Nicola Brooks, the solicitor for Mr Walters’ mother, said there was no evidence he had shown any aggression towards the men. 

She added: ‘He was simply running away. As it turned out, he was running for his life and was cornered in an area of Wood Street, where he was set upon for some 15 to 20 minutes.’

Concluding the death was due to unlawful killing, Ms Murphy said, on the balance of probabilities, Mr Walters had caused the vehicle damage. But she added: ‘He didn’t deserve to lose his life.’ 

A previous inquest into the death of Hassall heard he took his own life after Googling the maximum jail sentence for assault just days before he was due in court. 

The 51-year-old was found hanged at his place of work on March 2 last year. The inquest delivered a verdict of suicide.

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