St Leonards flat fall death ruled as ‘misadventure’

Daniel Dawson died after falling from flats in Charles Road, St Leonards, on New Year's Day 2017. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police
Daniel Dawson died after falling from flats in Charles Road, St Leonards, on New Year's Day 2017. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police

A St Leonards father-of-two who fell to his death on New Year’s Day 2017 died by misadventure, a coroner has ruled.

Daniel Dawson, 25, of no fixed address, died after falling from a flat in Charles Road, St Leonards, at 4.38am on January 1, 2017.

An inquest into his death, held today (August 7) at Muriel Matters House, Hastings, heard how Daniel had spent New Years Eve and the early hours of January 1 with friends James Hopgood, Craig Ellis, Danielle Hallett, Darren Butler and Stevie Tite at Ms Tite’s flat in Charles Road celebrating the new year.

Mr Butler, who befriended Daniel while the two of them were in prison, told the inquest the six had been enjoying an evening ‘playing poker, drinking alcohol and taking drugs’.

However, at approximately 3.45am, Daniel, who had been speaking to Mr Ellis in the kitchen, was angered by something, grabbed a knife and headed in the direction of Mr Butler, the court was told.

Mr Butler told the court he closed the door to the living room to prevent Daniel from attacking him or any of the other four people in the flat but said he was ‘overpowered’ by Daniel who managed to kick the door off its hinges and entered the living room.

Once inside, Daniel ‘accidentally or unintentionally’ struck Ms Hallett in the face, according to Mr Butler, leaving her with facial injuries, before getting into a fight with Mr Hopgood.

The court was told, during the fight, Daniel had bitten Mr Hopgood’s finger down to the bone and had also bitten his ear which caused a large amount of bloodshed.

Mr Butler said Mr Ellis also became involved as he attempted to ‘break it up’.

Both Mr Butler and Ms Tite appeared to offer contrasting accounts of their whereabouts while the fight was taking place.

Mr Butler said he was attending to Ms Hallett’s injuries alongside Ms Tite within the bedroom but Ms Tite said she and Mr Butler had climbed out of the living room window and sat out there for roughly five to ten minutes to avoid the fight.

The fight was thought to have lasted around half an hour, according to Mr Butler, before Daniel made his way out on to the roof of the building via a kitchen window, the court was told.

Mr Butler and his girlfriend at the time Ms Tite, who both gave evidence at today’s hearing, suggested Daniel may have been accessing the roof to avoid apprehension from police as Ms Hallett had made a call at approximately 4.20am to report the incident.

Neither of them could recall how the fight concluded or remembered seeing Daniel leave the flat and, on the night, had both assumed he had left via the front door.

Mr Butler was asked whether he thought Daniel had escaped via the roof because he was frightened by someone in the flat.

He said: “Not Daniel. Ne never backed down in a fight and he had got the better of J (Mr Hopgood) that evening.

“He would have left because he knew police would have been called because he hit Danielle (Ms Hallett).”

Without witnesses recalling a reason why, the court was told Daniel managed to climb out of the window – most likely the kitchen window – onto the roof and was three flats down the road before he fell onto the annexe of a basement flat, smashing through a corrugated plastic ceiling and onto the floor of a utility room.

The resident inside that flat Sameer Atallah said he was awoken at 4.38am by a loud bang. When he entered the utility room he found Daniel lying on the ground with his ‘eyes and mouth open’.

The court was told Daniel was impaled by a metal railing which caused ‘catastrophic and non-survivable injuries’.

Mr Atallah called for an ambulance but, despite 32 minutes of chest compressions by paramedics – who had moved him into the adjoining kitchen – Daniel was pronounced dead.

Sergeant Dave Tritton, who was the first police officer to arrive at the flat where the fight had taken place, at 6.15am, described a scene of ‘significant damage’.

He had been called to the scene by paramedics at the South East Coast Ambulance Service after Daniel had been pronounced dead.

He said: “It was clear there had been a large disturbance in the flat. There was blood on the walls and one of the people in the flat had suffered significant injuries.

“Each of the five people had blood stains on their clothing to some description.

“They were all drunk but Mr Butler was the most co-operative and I spoke with him for some time.

“Mr Hopgood was very anti-police and wanted to fight everybody, Mr Ellis was very quiet and sitting in the corner of the room on his own. Danielle (Ms Hallett) was very verbal and it was clear she had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol.”

A post mortem was carried out on Daniel on January 2 and found he had 288 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in his system (3.5 times the drink-drive limit) as well as traces of cocaine, cannabis and MDMA which suggested he had taken the drugs some time that night and a small trace of amphetamine which suggested he had taken the drug within 24 hours of his death.

The post mortem examination concluded Daniel had died as a result of a ‘severe thoracic injury’ caused by falling from a ‘significant height’.

Returning his verdict, coroner Christopher Wilkinson said: “In the early hours of January 1, 2017, Daniel was in the company of a number of friends at a flat in the attic space of (a house) in Charles Road.

“All the individuals had been partying and had consumed alcohol. All had also consumed drugs.

“At 3.45am, the demeanour inside the flat changed. For reasons we have not established, Daniel’s mood changed. Daniel was riled up by some comment and as a result a number of individuals in the flat became fearful for their safety.

“After the fight, it does not appear Daniel went out the front door of the flat. Daniel most likely exited through the kitchen window and onto the roof of the property after the fight finished. As to why is difficult to establish. Daniel, having caused injury and damage, was perhaps fearful about being apprehended and questioned about the events.

“Considering he had so much alcohol and drugs in his system, it is a miracle he made it as far as he did (along the roof) that evening.

“There is evidence to suggest Daniel had tried to climb down the drain pipes and I believe he did not intend to die that night.

“However, a miscalculation led to his death and is one of misadventure.”

The court heard five people were arrested on suspicion of murder later on January 1 but were ‘stood down’ from police bail in May 2018.

Detective inspector Mark Cullimore, from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, provided the court with a timeline of events for the early hours of January 1, 2017.

He said: “At 4.20am, Sussex Police received a distressed call from who we now know was Danielle Hallett. All that can be heard on the call is screaming and shouting in the background. She did not provide her name or where she was calling from.

“The call handler attempted to call her back at 4.24am but the woman does not speak to the police.

“At 4.38am, a neighbour hears Dan come through the roof and at 4.40am a call was made to request an ambulance.

“At 4.46am, the call is passed on to an ambulance crew who make their way to the scene.”