A WREXHAM teenager sobbed in the dock after being cleared of manslaughter following a four day trial.

Matthew Curtis, 18, of Firwood Drive in Gwersyllt, denied unlawfully killing 36-year-old Philip Long, despite admitting throwing the punch that resulted in his death.

The jury of six men and six women returned an unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.

The trial at Mold Crown Court had heard how Mr Long and his wife Hayley had been celebrating their second wedding anniversary on Saturday, August 3 last year. After dining with friends, the couple went to several bars around Wrexham town centre, before saying their goodbyes to the last remaining couple at around 1.30am. As the pair took a short cut and walked up College Street to get a taxi home, they came across Curtis and five of his friends, three of whom had been embroiled in a heated argument.

Curtis told the court how the Long’s had initially walked past, but after they noticed one of his female friends hitting a male and shouting at him, Mr Long said something along the lines of “You can’t let a girl hit a lad like that”. He said how Mr Long had asked another member of the group, Adam Robinson, to go and intervene in the fight, and after an unsuccessful attempt to do so, “pulled a face” to which Mr Robinson replied “what?” as in what else would you like me to do. Curtis said this caused Mr Long to “lose it” and he pushed Mr Robinson into some railings before he landed on the floor.

Curtis said the push by Mr Long had been “completely out of the blue” and as he took a step or two closer to him, punched him once to the face “in a last ditch attempt” to save his friend from a further attack. He described how Mr Long then staggered sideways, before falling backwards, down the sloping College Street, where he hit his head on the floor.

Curtis denied there had been any intention to injure or kill Mr Long, who died a couple of days later due to the injuries suffered when his head struck the pavement, and that he had ran off to a nearby nightspot to get help as he knew “if he got medical attention quickly it would be better for him”.

He said: “I didn’t run away from the scene because I just needed to know he was going to be ok. I couldn’t believe what had happened. You hear about things like this and now it’s happened to you.”

His friend Adam Robinson gave evidence to the court confirming he had been pushed, with the only discrepancy in his version of events being he wasn’t pushed into railings, but an electricity utility box. He said he had been on the floor and although he heard a punch being thrown, did not see it or Mr Long hitting the floor.

Nicolas Williams, defending barrister for Curtis said Philip Long’s death should never have happened and that this was a “terribly, terribly sad case”. He said his client is fully aware that his punch had cost Mr Long his life and would have to live with that fact for the rest of his.

He said: “There are no winners in this case.

“I am sure that everyone involved in this case would very much like to turn the clocks back, Mr Curtis included.”

Mr Williams said his client had punched Mr Long because at the time, he believed he had been making a move to attack his friend.

He also questioned the evidence provided by Hayley Long, saying the prosecution was primarily, if not exclusively relying on.

The incident she witnessed had been incredibly traumatic and would no doubt have had an impact on her recollection of what had happened.

He said: “Witnesses don’t see everything.

“People perceive things in different ways.

“ Could her recollection of events be wrong?”

Hayley Long had told the court how her husband had not pushed Mr Robinson and had merely only told the group that it was “not okay” for the girl to be hitting his other friend in the manner she was. She said how the punch had “come from nowhere” and how she heard “a thud” as her husband fell to the floor and hit his head.

Curtis had admitted lying to the police because he panicked, on two separate occasions, both at the scene and a couple of hours later at Wrexham police station. However, Mr Williams said people lie for “all kinds of reasons” and that “some people panic”.

He added: “And let’s not forget, Mr Curtis had only turned 18 just a fortnight prior to the incident taking place.

“He ran to get help because he knew he’d hurt Mr Long.

He said he didn’t know what to do and that he didn’t want to be taken away.

“It was described as a cowardly punch, but what did he do? He was the first to go and summon help. He also stayed at the scene and spoke to the police.

He didn’t run away.

“Although he lied to them at the time, at just 3pm that afternoon, he provided police with a seven page prepared statement, admitting that he had punched Mr Long.”

Mr Williams said how it had been unfortunate that the CCTV had not captured the punch and if it had, how the trial would unlikely to be taking place.

He said it was hard to judge the force that had been used because the punch had been thrown “immediately and instinctively” and that it had been done to stop Mr Long moving forwards, not to hurt him.

After the verdict was read out and Curtis was cleared, His Honour Judge Rhys Rowlands told the Long family that they had carried themselves with dignity throughout the trial.

He said: “The court has sympathy with them.”