Retrial for doorman after 24-year-old he threw out of Bijou nightclub hit head and died

The jury in the trial of a West Yorkshire nightclub doorman accused of manslaughter have failed to reach a verdict after more than eight hours of deliberation.

By Alex Evans
Friday, 9th August 2019, 3:44 pm
James Etherington, top right, pictured with family
James Etherington, top right, pictured with family

The panel of seven men and five women were this afternoon (Fri) discharged by the Recorder of Bradford Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC at the end of a two-week trial at Bradford Crown Court.

The jury had heard how 24-year-old James Etherington died in hospital 10 days after he suffered a severe brain injury when his head hit the pavement outside the Bijou nightclub in Bingley back in November 2017.

Club doorman Ciaran Spencer, 25, was alleged to have put Mr Etherington in an inappropriate headlock as he was being ejected from the venue in the early hours.

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Bijou nightclub

Prosecutor David Brooke QC revealed at the start of the trial that Mr Etherington was ejected from the premises after he drank two shots from a tray but then refused to pay £4 to a member of staff for them.

Spencer, of Green Head Drive, Utley, Keighley, was told about the problem and he and two other doormen approached Mr Etherington in the club.

Mr Brooke alleged that Spencer used an inappropriate headlock or neck hold to force Mr Etherington backwards out of the club and he was rendered “unconscious or near to it” by the force of the hold before the defendant let go of him at the entrance.

The CCTV footage captured Mr Etherington immediately falling backwards onto the pavement and Mr Brooke alleged that Spencer, a licensed doorman, had used either unlawful force or had been grossly negligent.

Mr Brooke also referred to a text message sent by Spencer to at the time of the incident in which he said:”I’ve just choked somebody out.”

Spencer, who denied manslaughter, is then said to have told his friend to delete the message which he did not realising the seriousness of the situation.

The defendant did not give evidence during the trial, but his barrister Richard Wright QC told the jury that Spencer had been dealing with a drunken customer who was “fighting him every step of the way” as he tried to get him out.

In his closing speech Mr Wright said the death of Mr Etherington had been tragic, unintended and unforeseen, but the prosecution were seeking to say that his client was criminally responsible for it.

He criticised the prosecution’s repeated use of CCTV clips, which had been slowed down or edited, and said it was a “dangerous distortion of reality”.

Mr Wright argued that in fact the footage covered “a matter of seconds” and his client had been wrestling with a drunken and aggressive man who weighed over 14 stone and was six feet five inches tall.

He submitted that Spencer had to be judged as a nightclub doorman who at the most, three years earlier, had had one day of training in the classroom to equip him for the task ahead.

Mr Wright said Mr Etherington had been very drunk, behaving badly in the club and refusing to pay for shots he had drunk.

He argued that the CCTV footage showed Mr Etherington “fighting every step of the way” as he was being ejected from the club and challenged prosecution claims that the neck-hold had rendered him unconscious or semi-conscious until the last few seconds.

“He doesn’t decide to deliberately drop him,” said Mr Wright.

“Was it inadvisable for Ciaran Spencer to hold James Etherington by the neck? Absolutely.

“If he had his time again would he do something different? Of course he would.

“Inadvisable isn’t the point. It’s a question of whether, in the heat of the moment, he went too far and became a criminal.”

After the jury were discharged Mr Brooke indicated that the prosecution would be seeking a retrial and following discussions about the listing of the case Judge Durham Hall confirmed that it would take place on January 6 next year.