Alan Watts jailed for 5 years for manslaughter



On 3rd August 2013 Brian Holmes, a 66 year old man who had just been given the ‘all clear’ from cancer, got into an argument with Alan Watts (a 65 year old man) over disabled parking in ASDA. During a minor altercation (the sort that happens up and down the land every day) Mr Watts punched Mr Holmes twice. Mr Holmes fell to the floor and fractured his skull. He died the next day.

Mr Watts stood trial for manslaughter and on 12th December 2013 was found guilty. He was sentenced that day to 5 years in prison.


Why manslaughter?

In this case the Prosecution never alleged that Mr Watts had ‘murdered’ Mr Holmes. It was accepted by Mr Watts that he had punched him, the issue for the jury was whether Mr Watts was acting in self-defence, ie did this as an act of aggression rather than to ward off an attack? The jury were obviously sure that this was not self-defence.

The difference here between murder and manslaughter is the intent. For it to have been murder, Mr Watts would have had to intended to kill or cause ‘really serious harm’ to Mr Holmes. It seems clear from the fact that this was never an issue.


Why 5 years?

I was surprised that the Judge passed straight to sentence without calling for a Pre-Sentence Report, if for nothing else, but to assist with how long any prison sentence should be.

But, in any event, this sort of offending is very hard to sentence. The Court of Appeal has said that when the case is one of manslaughter because of a lack of intent to cause death or really serious harm, the widest range of sentences are in play.

Some further guidance was given in the case of AG Ref (no 60 of 2009) [2009] EWCA Crim 2693 where it was said that sentences should be higher than they previously were (no surprises there – despite what the tabloids say, sentences generally always go up).

For that reason, the sentence of 5 years, whilst it was more than Mr Watts would have received 10 years ago, is one that a Court of Appeal is unlikely to interfere with. I would expect there to be an appeal against sentence as it is right that the Court of Appeal should consider the matter. My view is that in a tragic case such as this, given that Mr Watts is (we understand) a man of good character, a sentence of about 3 years would have been appropriate. Having said that, if I were Mr Watts, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

This entry was posted in In the news on by .

About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

5 thoughts on “Alan Watts jailed for 5 years for manslaughter

  1. Mike Pearson

    Sorry, but I disagree with the sentence – it should have at least been more – at least 7.5 years. This was not similar ‘road rage’ in that both parties had not been in a situation to cause any form of altercation – indeed, the deceased, was going about his private business and waiting for his wife. Mr Watts made it his ‘business’ to confront Mr Holmes without any provocation, and in my personal view, seemed intent on causing a fight. Why did he not just drive out of the car park and leave? In my view, both his actions prior to the confrontation and during, suggest Mr Watts intended to cause harm to Mr Holmes. Five year sentence too light.

    1. Dan Bunting Post author

      I understand that point of view, but the key thing is the absence of the intention to cause really serious harm. Of course he should have stayed in his car and just driven away – Mr Holmes would still be alive and Mr Watts would be a free man.

      But from the news reports it seems this was a moment of madness from an otherwise decent man. Had the consequences not been so tragic (and it is easy to see how if he had fallen differently, for example, Mr Holmes would be alive and Mr Watts would have received, at most, a very short immediate prison sentence.

      Mr Watts deserves a harsher penalty for the fact that Mr Holmes dies, but he never intended the death, which is important to bear in mind.

  2. Make 'em pay

    Whilst there was no intent to kill his actions directly led to the death of the other man. I suggest that 2.5 years prison time is not enough and 4 years would be appropriate justice. Therefore an 8 year sentance is required, IMO.

    1. You what

      Might as well send everyone who punches another man to prison then for eight years Make ’em pay. That means half of England would be sent to jail. Fathers, brothers and otherwise decent people. I have friends who have gotten into fights but they are not murderers and they never fight to the point where they try to kill someone.

      Unless the intention was murder I don’t see the reason for a long jail sentence unless the guy has prior criminal records suggesting that they’re dangerous.

      1. Make 'em Pay

        Are you not confused between assault and manslaughter ? I see a difference between your friend’s actions and those of a killer. Maybe you’re right and 84 days Community Service would have been appropriate.

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