UPDATED: 21-year-old Ryan Cooper of Chatfield Lodge, Newport has today (Wednesday) been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 6 years in prison after killing 49-year-old Gary ‘Jeff’ Stacey with a single punch during a night out on the Isle of Wight in February last year.
Cooper, a law student at the University of Southampton, was initially arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm after father-of-10 Gary Stacey, also of Newport, was found on St James’ Street with serious, life-threatening injuries during the early hours of Valentine’s Day (Sunday 14th February).
Sadly, the decision was taken to switch of Gary’s life support machine after he was rushed to Southampton General Hospital with serious head injuries. He suffered a broken eye socket after being punched by Cooper, followed by a fractured skull as his head hit the ground.
Cooper, a keen rugby player, was arrested on suspicion of murder following Mr Stacey’s death. At the beginning of June he was charged with manslaughter and bailed, later appearing before the Isle of Wight Magistrates Court where he failed to enter a plea. He entered a not guilty plea in September and was bailed to reappear for the trial.
Throughout the 2-week trial at Winchester Crown Court the jury has heard how the aspiring law student and black belt karate expert told Police that he hit Mr Stacey in self defence as he felt threatened when Mr Stacey came at him ‘with a raised fist’.
Cooper, who on the night of the incident was drunk and had taken drugs, told Police in interview:
“It was not a hard punch, I did not aim to hurt him. I did not mean for him to die, all I did was hit him before he punched me.
“As soon as his fist moved a little… I am not going to get hit in the face.”
Claims of self defence were rubbished by prosecutor Andy Houston who said:
“You were far from defending yourself. It is you who was aggressive towards Mr Stacey and that is why his life is at an end.”
The jury today went against the Ryan Cooper’s claim of self defence and found him guilty of manslaughter.
UPDATE @ 15:10 – Ryan Cooper has this afternoon been sentenced to 6 years in prison – to serve 3 years in custody and 3 years on licence – by The Hon. Mr Justice Warby.
Cooper will tonight spend his first night behind bars – almost 14 months to the day that Mr Stacey lost his life.
In sentencing, The Hon. Mr Justice Warby said:
“This is a very sad case. You will miss your finals. There will inevitably be an impact on your future career choices.
“I am sure you would take back those two seconds if only you could. But of course you can’t.
“The case is sadder for Gary Stacey and his family.
John Montague, of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said:
“Ryan Cooper claimed that he punched Mr. Stacey in self-defence, but having reviewed all of the evidence in what was an extremely thorough investigation by the police, I was not satisfied that this was the case.
“The enhanced CCTV was key evidence used by the prosecution to show the jury that Ryan Cooper had left the scene of the altercation, only to return moments later and attack Mr. Stacey.
“I would like to thank the prosecution team for putting together a strong case that convinced the jury that Ryan Cooper unlawfully killed Mr. Stacey in February of last year. My thoughts are with the family of Mr. Stacey at this painful and distressing time.”
UPDATE @ 16:55 – Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Liz Williams has this afternoon said:
“I’m pleased that this sentence will go some way towards providing closure to Gary Stacey’s family following his tragic death. They will now be able to move on with their lives in the knowledge that justice has been served.
“One fact that was never disputed in this case was that Cooper had punched Gary Stacey. The challenge for our investigation was to establish the motive behind the assault. This is sadly yet another reminder that one punch can kill and that alcohol related violence can have devastating consequences. I’d urge anyone on a night out to know their limits and enjoy a safe and enjoyable evening without it ending in tragedy”.
Inspector Andy McDonald from the Island’s policing team has added:
“Alcohol related violence is something a number of agencies on the Isle of Wight have been addressing. Volunteers like Street Pastors provide additional pastoral care for vulnerable people and a range of prevention and intervention strategies have been trialled and implemented in conjunction with licensed premises themselves. These include practices and techniques adopted by licensees and door supervisors. The adoption of banning patrons, using plastic glasses instead of glass and pub watch initiatives have helped to reduce issues in relation to alcohol. Hampshire Constabulary has also implemented specific patrols in relevant areas, continues to carry out test purchasing operations, and is engaging with individuals who have been identified as part of our work in this area”.
Gary Stacey’s family has issued this short statement:
“Gary was a loving father and dedicated family man. We were denied the opportunity to celebrate his fiftieth birthday by the actions of Ryan Cooper and are pleased that this sentence has found justice for Gary.
“We’d like to thank the police officers and Crown Prosecution Service who have worked on this case to ensure that this sentence was possible”.