Belfast Telegraph

Belfast man accused of Conan Anderson one punch killing denies lying to save himself, court hears

By Ashleigh McDonald

A chef from north Belfast accused of killing a 22-year-old man in a "one punch" assault denied lying in a bid to save himself from the consequences of his actions.

The denial came as Lawrence Dowie took to the witness stand at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

He is currently on trial for the manslaughter Conan Anderson (22).

Mr Anderson, a football coach from Belfast's Short Strand, fell backwards and hit his head off a pavement after he was punched to the jaw by Dowie during an early morning altercation in the Arthur's Lane area on February 6 last year.

He was rendered unconscious for a period and made his way home, but was rushed to hospital later that day and died 12 days later as a result of severe head injuries including a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain.

Dowie, whose address cannot be published due to a reporting restriction, has admitted punching Mr Anderson once but claimed he was acting in self defence. He claimed the punch was a reaction to the attack upon him, that he didn't have time to "weigh up options" and that he didn't want to fight.

At one point, when he was asked if it would have been "much easier to run away", 28-year old Dowie said: "If I could have had time to think ... I wish I had have." He also said the incident was a "terrible tragedy".

From the witness box, Dowie maintained that he only struck out once after Mr Anderson came at him first by headbutting him then throwing two punches which didn't connect. He also rejected suggestions he was "trying to blacken Conan" and that he was "embellishing things for the jury".

The accused was firstly questioned by his barrister Gavan Duffy QC, then by Crown barrister Richard Weir QC.

Dowie said that on the morning in question, he was with a friend who received a text about a lock-in at AM:PM. He said that when they arrived at the premises, there was a group of people present - including Mr Anderson - and that "everybody was in good form, having a drink and a laugh."

Describing himself as "tipsy", Dowie said he had been doing magic tricks in the storeroom where there was "a bit of banter".

The jury of eight men and four women have already heard there was an altercation between Mr Anderson and Dowie at around 5.30am, when they left AM:PM and were standing on the street.

Dowie said at this stage there was "just a bit of slagging" between him and Mr Anderson, and when asked by Mr Duffy to elaborate, Dowie said: "Conan was calling me Dumbledore because I was doing magic tricks and I was calling him Gandalf."

When asked by Mr Duffy if he meant any harm by this comment, Dowie replied: "No. It was all just a bit of innocent slagging. After I said to him 'aye, no sweat Gandalf' he came over from the footpath to where I was in the middle of the road. He came straight over with his hands down by his side, fists clenched.

"There wasn't any time to think. I sort of froze. He put his head into mine ... his head connected with the bridge of my nose."

Claiming the entire incident lasted "around 20 seconds at the most", Dowie continued: "Everything happened so quickly. He was coming forward to me with punches. He only swung two punches, I believe both punches were with his left hand."

And when asked by Mr Duffy "How did you react to that?", Dowie responded: "I swung one back. I didn't have time to think. I just reacted. It was a panic swing to get him away from me. I believe it connected with his chin."

Mr Duffy then asked his client "what happened to Mr Anderson, once you felt the connection?", to which Dowie replied "he fell to the ground." He was then asked "when he fell back, what was your reaction?". He answered: "Panic. I didn't know what to think. I helped him up off the ground."

When Mr Duffy asked Dowie "what were your feelings at that stage?", Dowie said "shock, worry, nervous. I didn't know what to think. I was a bundle of emotions to be honest with you." And when asked by his barrister "Did you set out to cause Mr Anderson harm?", he replied "completely not. I didn't want to fight in the first place."

Confirming he had never met Mr Anderson before the fatal altercation, Dowie said that when he helped get Mr Anderson to his feet, he noticed a bit of blood on his face, but saw no other injury. When Mr Duffy asked "did you appreciate how badly injured he was?", Dowie said "I didn't think he was injured at all."

Dowie told the court he only became aware Mr Anderson was in hospital when the police arrived at his house two days later. When he asked how he felt when Mr Anderson passed away, he said "terrible. It's a terrible tragedy. Someone has lost their life, at the end of the day."

Mr Duffy concluded questioning his client by asking his reaction to suggestions he wasn't acting in self defence, to which Dowie replied "completely unfair to be honest. I didn't have time to think. This happened so quickly and I just reacted."

Under cross-examination by Richard Weir QC, for the Crown, Dowie was asked again about the "banter and slagging" between him and the deceased in the street. Mr Weir accused Dowie of making up a claim that Mr Anderson called him Dumbledore - a reference to a wizard from Harry Potter - saying he didn't mention this to police.

When Mr Weir asked Dowie "were you the smart guy at the party? Were you the man with the quick tongue, the repartee, the expert slagger?, the accused answered "no".

The prosecuting QC rejected Dowie's claimed that he froze with panic, and when asked why he didn't step away, Dowie said he didn't have time to "weight up my options", but he never intended to hurt anyone.

Mr Weir also questioned Dowie about Mr Anderson's headbutt, and asked the accused why he told police the other man "tried to headbutt" when he was telling the jury the headbutt connected with his nose. Dowie said that when he made the comment to police "my head was all over the place. Mr nerves were wrecked."

The prosecutor then accused Dowie of changing the description of the headbutt and said this was "another demonstration of your inclination to lie about these matters to try and save yourself from the consequences of your actions."

This suggestion was denied by Dowie, who also rejected Mr Weir's assertion that he was "embellishing things for the jury".

Dowie also branded as "incorrect" a claim by the Crown that he was "happy to fight" with Mr Anderson that night.

Mr Weir then said : "Have you heard of fight or flight? You chose to stand and fight. You chose not to fly." Dowie responded by saying: "Are you saying it's my fault because I didn't run away? I didn't have time. I didn't think. I froze."

And when asked if it would have been "much easier to run away", Dowie said: "If I had have had time to think ... I wish I had have."

Dowie also claimed from the witness box that Mr Anderson "walked straight onto" the single punch he threw with his left hand "because he was advancing at me." Denying Mr Weir's claim he was "voluntarily fighting" with Mr Anderson, Dowie said "I didn't want to fight. I was trying to diffuse the situation."

Mr Weir concluded by suggesting to Dowie that while he "didn't wish the death of Conan Anderson", he was a willing participant in a "fair dig" - which was rejected the accused, who said the other man was the aggressor and that he was acting in self defence.

The trial is due to resume next week.

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