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Carer who suffocated thief during citizen’s arrest ‘did not intend to harm him’

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-01-21

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A carer accused of the manslaughter of a suspected burglar while making a citizen’s arrest says he had no intention to harm him.

Nathan Smith, 38, is accused of killing 43-year-old Craig Wiltshire who suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest while pinned to the ground in the early hours of November 20 2019.

The victim died in hospital from catastrophic brain damage two weeks later.

Smith, a live-in carer, believed Wiltshire was behind a series of car and garage break-ins in his employer’s neighbourhood in Bristol

After confronting him, Smith pinned Mr Wiltshire down for 12 minutes with his head twisted to one side.

For nine of those minutes, he allegedly knelt on his back despite the fact the victim twice told him he could not breathe.

Giving evidence at Bristol Crown Court on Friday, Smith told the jury he had been working for his employer Michael Crooks, a man in his 50s, for the past 12 years.

He had initially worked in Crooks’ engineering firm, but later became his carer after the older man was diagnosed with a chronic degenerative disease.

“It’s gone from doing little bits of shopping, taking him to appointments – now I do everything from the moment he wakes to the moment he goes to sleep. Anything in between I’m involved in,” Smith said.

”All of his conditions are progressing as time’s gone on and now he spends most of his life in bed.”

The court previously heard evidence about the fact detaining someone face down puts them at risk of “positional asphyxia” and police are trained to move people to a sitting position as soon as possible.

Smith said it had never been his intention to hurt Mr Wiltshire, and that he had only wanted to detain him until the police arrived.

He said he had never been employed in any security capacity, and never had any any training in how to restrain people.

He estimated he had made 30 to 40 previous calls to police about crime in the area.

His barrister, David Hughes, asked: “Did you have any intention to cause any harm to that man?”

“No I did not,” Smith replied.

Asked what he feared might happen if he had let Mr Wiltshire up, Smith said: “He would hurt me, hurt one of the others, escape.”

Smith said the victim had been trying to get to his pockets.

“I knew previously he had broken into houses and care so I thought I might have tools or a weapon,” the defendant said.

He said he believed Mr Wiltshire was lying about not being able to breathe “to get me to let him up so he could escape or attack us”.

Mr Hughes asked: “Did it go through your mind that he actually couldn’t breathe?”

“No,” Smith replied.

The defendant said he “couldn’t believe it” when he learned Mr Wiltshire had been seriously injured, adding that he had vomited in shock.

“I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said.

He described the past two years as the worst of his life, adding: “I’ve made many visits to my doctor, I am currently on anti-depressants.

“I used to be quite a happy person, now I just feel mostly sad. I don’t really want to do anything any more. I just stay in, I keep myself to myself, I do my job and not much else.”

Smith was asked by prosecutor James Ward why he had yelled abuse at the victim, including repeatedly calling him “a f****** piece of shit”.

“I was being loud so other people would come, I didn’t want to shout ‘help’ so he knew I needed help, and I wanted him to make him think I was more in control than I was,” Smith replied.

He insisted he wasn’t angry or trying to punish the victim, adding: “I just wanted the police to come and get him.”

Michael Crooks is seen in the CCTV footage adding his weight to Mr Wiltshire for a few minutes, while his son Ben Crooks is seen kicking the prone man twice.

They have both admitted a charge of common assault and were not charged with manslaughter.

The trial, which is due to last two weeks, continues.

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