SIMMERING tensions between drinkers at two rival pubs erupted in violence that led to the death of a family man during a bar room brawl, an inquest heard yesterday.

David Willis, 51, of William Street, Darlington, died five days after he was admitted to Middlesbrough General Hospital with head injuries.

The painter and decorator had been involved in an incident with several other drinkers at the Rise Carr Hotel, Darlington, that led to his death in May last year.

It was revealed at the inquest into Mr Willis's death, that tension had been mounting for several weeks between the Rise Carr Hotel and nearby pub, The Locomotive.

Police had received reports that two men had been paid to smash windows at the Rise Carr, and licensee Steven Webb, 35, alleged that it was on the orders of Locomotive licensee Les Sheen.

Josephine Willis, who is married to David Willis's twin brother, Brian, was manageress of the Locomotive and she believed that Mr Webb blamed her for the hotel's broken windows.

After meeting up with her husband, and David and his wife, Sandra, at the Locomotive, the group headed into pubs in Darlington town centre. They then went to The Rise Carr to confront Mr Webb.

The family became aggressive, it was claimed. Glasses were smashed, tables thrown over and a heavy ashtray hurled at the manager, the inquest heard.

Mr Willis was seen to have thrown a punch at Mr Webb, who retaliated by punching him in the face. Mr Willis then fell over hitting his head.

Mr Webb was subsequently arrested and charged with manslaughter, but the charge was later dropped due to insufficient evidence. Mr Webb said he acted in self defence and was devasted by the tragedy.

Coroner Kenneth Howe said he believed the Willis family had gone to the Rise Carr intent on causing trouble. "I am satisfied that Steven Webb did not intend to cause the death of David Willis or cause him serious bodily harm," he said.

Pathologist Dr Peter Cooper said that Mr Willis had not died from the punch thrown by Mr Webb but by his head hitting a flat surface, causing brain injury. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.