A SIX foot four inch tall teacher at a Thurrock Special School has been cleared of assault after admitting punching a five foot six inch man twice in the face in a passion-inflamed row between former lovers.
After a court case lasting almost five hours and more than 40 minutes deliberating their verdict, Magistrates at Basildon ruled that Canadian Chad Love was justified in hitting a “manipulative” John Coventry twice in the face.
The violent encounter came at the climax of a confrontation between Mr Coventry and his former girlfriend, Anna Rollings, who had just picked up the Treetops teacher from a pub where he had been drinking.
Mr Coventry, 25, of Crouch Road, Chadwell St Mary, had broken up a 15 month relationship with Miss Rollings, 22, a couple of weeks before the encounter which happened on 11 April this year after Mr Coventry spotted the couple in her car and followed them.
After stopping once on seeing Mr Coventry, Miss Rollings then drove off, before stopping again in Dell Road, Grays.
At that point Mr Coventry approached her and snatched her car keys. The court heard several conflicting versions of what happened then, but what was not contested was that Mr Love, 25, of Park View, Grays, twice punched Mr Coventry in the face at close range, knocking him to ground and causing serious facial injuries.
Mr Coventry told the court that he had simply wanted to “get answers” from Miss Rollings, who he accepted was susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks, and he conceded, on refection, his behaviour was unacceptable.
However, he told the court the reaction of Mr Love was unexpected.
“It was apparent he was drunk and abusive,” he said.
“Initially I said to Anna, ‘what’s it got to do with him,’ it’s between you and me and I want to talk and get some answers. He gave me a lot of abuse and then got out of the car. I backed away from him and turned and the next thing I knew he had hit me to the ground.
“He hit me twice in the face and then when I was on the floor he hit me twice again.”
Prosecuting counsel James Burnham had woven a trail of deceit and jealously in the build up to the incident, telling the court of text and Facebook messages between Mr Love and Miss Rollings, who worked together at Treetops. They were a cause of Mr Coventry’s distress, he said. Her boss at the school is Mr Love’s aunt, who also provided his home in Grays when he arrived in the UK in January.
Witness David Bockhart told the court that he had been disturbed by the commotion outside his nearby home and had got out of bed to look out of the window. He said: “An argument seemed to be in progress between a tall man, a much smaller man and a slim woman. The larger guy got out of the car and hit the smaller male who fell over. Then they separated and drove off.”
Under cross examination by defence counsel Steven Fitzpatrick, Mr Bockhart conceded that Mr Coventry had appeared to be the more demonstrable and emotional of the three, but he had not seen a push, which Mr Love claimed had been the cause of his need for self-defence.
Mr Fitzpatrick then made an appeal to the court to dismiss the case at that point, as he claimed it was clear his client had acted in self defence and Mr Coventry had been the aggressor, but after a deliberation, Magistrates decided to hear more evidence.
They heard that when Mr Love had been questioned by police who arrived at his home some days later, he had refused to comment, saying he was ‘hung over.’
Later, under caution, he submitted a prepared statement to police in which he admitted striking Mr Coventry, but only in self defence because he didn’t know him, and what he was capable of doing.
Mr Fitzpatrick told the court Mr Love, who received a glowing commendation from the school’s head, Paul Smith, that the defendant was someone who showed great patience and understanding when dealing with very difficult children and he had won praise by the manner with which he withstood provocation.
However, Mr Love’s own evidence told how he snapped when confronted by Mr Coventry. “I went towards him and several times asked for the f***g keys. He pushed me away so I hit him with my left hand twice in the face.
I wanted to hit him to get myself out of danger – then I backed off.”
He admitted standing over Mr Coventry on the floor, demanding the keys – which Mr Coventry eventually threw towards Mr Rollings. He denied hitting him again.
In an emotional and tearful visit to the witness box, Miss Rollings said that she had been petrified by Mr Coventry’s presence, saying :”I didn’t know what John was going to do. I didn’t know what the result of the evening was going to be.
“I told Chad, who suffers from anxiety himself, but I didn’t want him to get involved.”
Barely able to speak, she told the court that Mr Coventry had used foul and abusive language to her, words that she would never use and she felt unable to say them, even in court. When Mr Coventry was punched, she said she had turned away and was unable to give a version of what had happened.
In summing up, Mr Burnham said: “What happened was the reaction of someone who lost his temper and lashed out,” while Mr Fitzpatrick said: “I submit it is the case that the wrong person is in the dock.”
After their lengthy deliberations, the Magistrates found Mr Love not guilty.
Chair of the bench, Mrs Jenny Kirton, said: “We accept Mr Love’s evidence. In the face of Mr Coventry’s actions, which we do not believe were reasonable, Mr Love demonstrated a considerable degree of forbearance. His two punches were reasonable and necessary in the circumstance and the Crown has not disproved self-defence.”