Dec 12 2013
A man who attacked a former cancer patient "in a moment of madness" in an argument over a disabled parking space was jailed for five years today.
Alan Watts, 65, of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, was found guilty at Luton Crown Court of the manslaughter of 64-year-old Brian Holmes.
The men had a confrontation in a supermarket car park on August 3.
Mr Holmes, from Sandy in Bedfordshire, died at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge the day after the incident in the car park of the Biggleswade branch of Asda.
Just days before the incident, he had been told he had beaten cancer.
Watts pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, claiming self-defence. A court official said that a jury had convicted him and he had been sentenced to five years by Judge Michael Kay QC.
Prosecutor Ann Evans told the court during her opening address that Watts goaded Mr Holmes after seeing his car was parked in a disabled space before setting on him in an unprovoked attack.
Mr Holmes had returned to the car without his wife Christine, who suffered rheumatoid arthritis, when Watts sarcastically shouted: "You look like you need a wheelchair."
Ms Evans said: "This is a case about how a moment of madness can change people's lives forever.
"The defendant, Alan Watts, in a show of extraordinary violence, lashed out at Brian Holmes at a car park in Asda and killed him with a punch to the head."
Ms Evans said CCTV footage, which she played to the four women and eight men in the jury, showed Watts punch Mr Holmes twice in a "right-left combination" before the victim dropped to the ground.
Watts then got back in his vehicle and drove away, she said.
Mrs Holmes struggled to compose herself from the public gallery as the footage was being played while Watts, who was wearing large headphones to help him hear the proceedings, sat motionless.
Ms Evans said Watts told police he was acting in self-defence because Mr Holmes had tried to pull him out of his car and had grabbed his wrists.
The prosecutor said Watts claimed Mr Holmes was "effing and blinding" and suspected he was drunk.
Watts told police he left the scene immediately because he wanted to get his wife home and "didn't know whether he was going to be attacked again", Ms Evans said.
But the prosecutor said it would be up to the jury to decide whether it was reasonable to believe Mr Holmes was the aggressor, particularly given he had recently received positive medical news.
"Here is Mr Holmes, a man who was recently given the all clear from cancer," she said.
"Does he, as Mr Watts suggest, lose it?"
Mrs Holmes sobbed as Ms Evans read her witness statement to the court.
It said she expected her husband to return to Asda to go shopping with her after putting some shorts he had purchased in the car, but he never returned.
"I continued shopping then went to the self-checkout," she said.
"During this time I was constantly looking out for Brian, expecting to see him at any moment."
But she left the supermarket and saw her husband's legs sticking out from behind a screen that had been set up by paramedics.
Emergency crews put her in the back of the police car and made sure her son was with her, telling her she was in shock.
"I thought 'this must be bad'," she said.
Nurse Patricia Pearson told the court she saw the entire incident unfold, from when the argument began to when Watts allegedly punched Mr Holmes twice in the face.
She said Watts looked aggressive and her "instinct" told her something bad would happen.
Both she and fellow witness Chris McKenna denied suggestions from Watts' barrister Derek Johashen that Mr Holmes was the aggressor.
Mr Holmes' family issued a statement after the case, saying he was a kind, caring, loving man with no enemies and many friends.
They said: "We are pleased that the trial is now over, that justice has been done.
"Brian was deprived of his life and our family has been deprived of a loving husband, father, stepfather and granddad. Many more people have been deprived of a good and loyal friend.
"Brian was, in every sense of the word, a gentleman. A kind, caring, loving man with no enemies and many friends. A man for whom caring was second nature and his wife and family his first priority.
"We would, as a family, like to thank the investigation team, the prosecutors and the court for the kind and sensitive way they have dealt with Brian's death and we would now ask that we are left in peace to begin to rebuild our lives."
Detective Inspector Liz Mead said: " This is a sharp and timely reminder for people to think before they act. Watts' actions mean he will now lose his liberty and be separated from his family. But our thoughts are focused on Brian's family, who have remained dignified throughout this harrowing process of putting the life of a very private man into the public arena through no fault of his own.
"They, as a family, should be celebrating a Christmas and looking forward to 2014 without the shackles of cancer, but instead they have an empty place which cannot be filled by the tragic and unnecessary death of Brian, a loving husband, best friend, carer, father, grandfather and a gentleman.
"Alan Watts was aware of his actions and the evidence against him at an early stage of this investigation but took up his right to trial, drawing out the court process and forcing Brian's family to publicly hear how their loved one was killed. I am, therefore, pleased with the jury's verdict today."