What started out as a normal Saturday drinking session for a regular pub customer ended in fatal violence when he was viciously knocked unconscious following row.

Craig Gill took up his regular seat next to the entrance of Blakes bar and set himself up for the day with his favourite bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale at hand.

The 61-year-old had spent many happy hours drinking in the Newton Aycliffe bar before his life was brought to a devastating end last summer.

Jurors heard how Mr Gill was punched four times to the head minutes after he was whipped across the face with a dog lead before falling unconscious to the floor.

The Northern Echo: Craig GillCraig Gill (Image: Durham Constabulary)

Teesside Crown Court heard how Mr Gill became involved in a simmering dispute with Richard Smith-Slater when he confronted him about his Staffordshire bull terrier wandering around the pub.

Throughout the day of July 8 last year, CCTV footage from inside the town centre bar recorded several confrontations between Mr Gill and the 33-year-old who was at the pub with his ex-partner and two children.

The simmering tension exploded into several seconds of brutal violence after Mr Gill tried to stop Smith-Slater leaving the bar after he hit him with the dog lead.

Nick Dry, prosecuting, said what happened next was a result of Smith-Slater behaving like ‘a sheriff in a one-horse town’ when he delivered the four quick blows to Mr Gill immediately rendering him unconscious.

Jurors heard how Smith-Slater behaved as an unofficial doorman during the day at his local pub – a claim he dismissed when he was giving evidence.

Closing the prosecution’s case, Mr Dry said the defendant took a sneaky chance to deliver a ‘punishment’ beating believing that he was a law unto himself in the bar before swanning out of the premises.

“None of us needed to be here. This needn’t have happened,” he said.

“A man killed, murdered the prosecution says, in circumstances so utterly senseless, it beggars belief.

“Beaten to death in such a brutal manner. For what? An argument about a dog. It’s hard to believe that such a disagreement could bring us all here.”

The court heard how Smith-Slater was heading to a family barbecue when he went across to speak to a couple sitting next Mr Gill and that was when the tension overflowed into brutal violence.

The Northern Echo: Richard Smith-SlaterRichard Smith-Slater (Image: Durham Constabulary)

Jurors heard how Smith-Slater had downed 11 pints and snorted a line of cocaine in the pub’s toilets while he spent the summer afternoon there with his former partner and their two young children.

The once-junior boxer delivered four accurate and powerful jabs to his vulnerable victim before he had a chance to defend himself.

Falling to the floor unconscious, Mr Gill hit his head on the ground and suffered a cardiac arrest.

He was taken to hospital for treatment but never regained consciousness and was confirmed dead five days later.

His devastated family told the court how their lives had been turned upside down by Mr Gill’s death, particularly his elderly mother as they relied on each other on a daily basis.

The Northern Echo: Forensic officer working inside Blakes bar in Newton AycliffeForensic officer working inside Blakes bar in Newton Aycliffe (Image: TERRY BLACKBURN)

Sentencing Smith-Slater, Judge James Adkin, the Recorder of Durham, said: “You brought a small dog to Blakes, which wandered around off the lead, and Mr Gill had taken against it thinking it was a banned breed.

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“During the afternoon there were inactions between you and Mr Gill and Mr Gill and your ex-partner where he expressed his disapproval of the dog.

“You want the dog over to another woman sitting adjacent to where Mr Gill was drinking and you knew this would irritate him and it did.”

Judge Adkin said Smith-Slater then knocked out Mr Gill moments after he had whipped his victim across the face with the dog lead.

Smith-Slater was sentenced to life imprisonment and told he would serve at least 14 years before being considered for parole.