Punching – it’s what men do to each other isn’t it? When they’re angry, or jealous, or drunk, or they just don’t know the words. It’s just normal animal behaviour, what Jeremy Clarkson does when his dinner’s the wrong temperature. But – as this disturbing documentary, One Killer Punch (Channel 4), demonstrates – it can mean the end of someone’s life.
“I’m not a violent person,” says Ben, before immediately contradicting himself. “After I punched him, you see me on CCTV, I went back to the party, felt really bad.” Ben was involved in a fracas outside a house party. He was about to get stuck into one boy when George intervened – to stop them fighting, say George’s friends. But Ben says George was shoving him in the chest, then clenched his fist, was just about to hit him, and it was only then that Ben punched him, in self-defence.
George went down. Got up again, went home, but the next morning he was found unconscious in bed, bleeding from the nose and mouth. He died in hospital, aged 17.
There’s suspense built into the film in that we don’t know the outcome of the subsequent trial. Ben is filmed in front of a nondescript grey background that says nothing about his liberty or lack of it. At the end of the section the backcloth is dropped, there are bars over the window. Ben yawns and stretches lazily before being led away by a guard. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.
Good. Ben shows zero remorse. He says he felt bad about what happened, but looking at that CCTV footage, it doesn’t look like it to me. He’s demonstrating to his friends what happened, re-enacting the punch, again and again, bam, bam. And as he does so he seems to be smiling.
The second killer punch is more random still, and maybe even more shocking, because of what led to it and the ages of the two men involved. Brian, 64, hit by Alan, 65, over a disabled parking bay in Asda carpark. Alan thought Brian wasn’t entitled to be there. It turns out he was. Brian died in hospital from his head injuries.
More lies, contradictions and CCTV. Alan says Brian attacked him, came for him again and again, he hit back purely in self-defence. “I was the victim,” he says. “He attacked me.” Pretty much the opposite, say two witnesses, and the grainy CCTV backs them up. Here’s Brian walking away, Alan comes after him, punches him, Brian falls to the ground, Alan gets in his Range Rover and drives away. Not so hard for the jury or the judge: guilty of manslaughter, five years.
“It’s just unbelievable that Brian lost his life because he had parked in a disabled space,” says Christine, his wife.
It’s desperately sad and depressing, how something that should be so innocuous can turn out so badly, all because of the aggression of some men. And let’s face it, it is men. I love them, some of my best friends – and I include myself among them – are men, but we would appear to be the problem. “With men, there is a bit of macho culture around not backing down, rather than walking away or letting it go,” says DCI Liz Mead, the investigating officer in this one. “So then they get into a spiral where they can’t get out of the situation, so then it turns violent.”
George’s friend Liam in the first case agrees. “Men are like cavemen, like animals. I feel like everyone still has that bit of animal in them and that aggressiveness.” It’s basically Planet Earth II, without the production values.
The final story is at first similar, and similarly depressing. A throwaway, disrespectful comment about a haircut leads, over the course of a weekend, to another killer punch. Grim CCTV, hospital, life support off, and another family with a big hole where there used to be a son, and a husband: 26-year-old Dave.
The difference here is two reactions. First from Ben, who delivered the punch. He claims he doesn’t have the intelligence or words to describe how he felt on hearing that the man he had hit was dead. But then he says, “My whole soul, and everything in my body kind of dropped,” which I think describes it well – “it” being what sounds like remorse.
And then the extraordinary response of Dave’s wife Nikki who, after the police agreed it was self-defence this time and dropped charges, told Ben she didn’t blame him, hugged him and forgave him, because she knew it could have been the other way round. An amazing woman who left me feeling less bleak about humanity.