A RETIRED fire chief has told how a crowded pub froze in horror after a man tumbled backwards off a balcony, leaving him fighting for his life.

North Yorkshire Police said the man, from the Langley Park area of Durham, yesterday remained “very poorly, but stable” in the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, where he was taken following the incident in The Three Tuns pub in Thirsk on Saturday afternoon.

The 45-year-old had been with a group of friends and relatives when he suffered serious head injuries and fractured legs after falling 20ft from the top of a winding staircase in the grade II listed building.

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Ian Hodgson, who retired as North Yorkshire Fire Service’s Thirsk watch manager in November 2010, said he had been standing at the bar when he saw an “unsteady” man walking up the stairs.

He said: “A lot of people mistakenly go up there for the toilet, so I thought nothing more of it until I saw him falling straight down from the top, hitting the floor.

“It would appear he put his hand out to grab the rail and went over the bannisters backwards.

“It seemed as though time stood still for several seconds and then everyone said ‘my God’.

“Everyone was in shock, but as I have seen so many serious road accidents over 30 years in the fire service I dived in and checked he was breathing.”

Mr Hodgson, 52, said a nurse checked his pulse and they got him into the recovery position before placing tea towels around his head to stem the flow of blood.

Within five minutes paramedics arrived and the man was put on a stretcher and carried to an ambulance.

Shortly afterwards, a fracas broke out in the pub, which was busy due to a meeting at Thirsk Racecourse, after someone made a disparaging remark about the injured man. Bar staff moved in to break up the violence before police officers arrived.

Police are investigating the circumstances which led to the man falling and are studying the pub’s CCTV footage.

Detectives have urged anyone who visited the pub after travelling to Thirsk to attend the races or was in the pub at the time of the incident to call 101, select option two, and ask for Sergeant Simon Hepburn.