A DRUNKEN confrontation on a garage forecourt that had ended in the death of a father-of-five could have been avoided, according to a witness.

Thomas Mallaby suffered fatal head injuries when he cracked his skull on the concrete after he was punched to the ground by a teenager.

The 40-year-old had become embroiled in an argument between the occupants of two cars using the Esso service station in Annfield Plain last September.

The driver of the Mercedes car which brought the teenager to the scene told Teesside Crown Court that he was the only sober person in either car at the garage.

He told the jury that Mr Mallaby walked towards the defendant who reacted by throwing a punch to defend himself.

Jurors heard how the teenager put the man to the ground twice before knocking him unconscious with a third flurry of punches.

The witness, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “The man comes towards him again, as he has done the other two times, if not more aggressive due to the fact he has been hit.

“He comes towards him again, so he hits him a third time with a left, right combination.”

The Northern Echo: The Esso service station at Annfield PlainThe Esso service station at Annfield Plain

Peter Makepeace QC, prosecuting, asked the man what happened next.

He replied: “The man then falls back and as a result he hits his head on the floor. We all heard that thud on the floor, I would imagine everyone knows what it sounds like, hitting concrete quite hard because he is not a small person – he is a fully grown bloke.”

The witness said he took the decision to drive away from the garage to de-escalate the situation before dropping his friends off and returning to give his details to the police.

Jurors heard how the defendant was panicking in the car asking ‘if everything was going to be alright’ because he knew it was serious situation.

Under cross examination from defence counsel, John Elvidge QC, the witness was asked whether the catalyst of the violence was the red VW Beetle, belonging to a friend of Mr Mallaby, blocking in his Mercedes car.

He replied: “There was no need for it to happen. That was the start, when that red car pulled in front of mine, if that hadn’t happened and he just drove off as a person normally does at a petrol station, none of this would have happened.”

Another witness, who was also one of the occupants of the Mercedes, told the jury that the driver of the red Beetle threatened to put the teenager ‘into the boot’ of his car.

He told the court that he believed it was that threat which was the trigger for the ensuing violence after the Beetle blocked the path of the Mercedes and the teenager got out of the car and slapped the driver’s face.

Mr Mallaby suffered significant head injuries and was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness and died on September 28.

Initially, the 15-year-old was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm but was charged with murder following Mr Mallaby’s death two days after the altercation.

The teenager, who is now 16 and cannot be named for legal reasons, denies murder but has admitted manslaughter.

The trial continues.

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