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Man died after fall in “play fight” with best friend that got out of hand

PUBLISHED: 12:59 30 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:32 30 August 2018

Broadland Business Park. Picture: Mike Page

Broadland Business Park. Picture: Mike Page

Mike Page

A “play fight” between two best friends on their first night out in Norwich escalated and ended with the death of one of the colleagues from Lancashire, a court has heard.

But a prosecution will not be brought over the “tragic altercation” as there is reasonable doubt over what had occurred.

Richard Sowerbutts, 40, a furniture installer from Chorley, died at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital four days after the incident on October 17 last year.

He had come to Norwich on October 13 with colleagues Marc Brandwood, Graham Whitling, and Jamie White to set up a new Sofaology store. The group went out in the city and Mr Sowerbutts had around 16 drinks before door staff became concerned for him, Norfolk Coroner’s Court heard.

In the taxi back to the Premier Inn at the Broadland Business Park, he and Marc Brandwood had “a bit of a play fight that got a little more serious”, investigating officer DC Rob French told the court.

“We interviewed Marc Brandwood as a potential suspect because of this altercation,” he added. “Marc and Richard were very good friends. They worked together about nine years and were very close, and they had a banter between them where they would chastise one another.

“It was not unusual for them to horse play about. It got a little more serious, because of Richard’s drunken state he got carried away. He bit Marc’s hand at one point which made it a little more serious.”

DC French added when they arrived at the hotel the pair “squared up to each other like footballers after a tackle - pushing their heads together”.

“At that point Graham Whitling describes Richard’s legs giving from under him while they were squaring up,” he said. “This caused Richard to fall backwards, hitting his head which ultimately was the cause of his death.”

While there was evidence of bruising and a black eye found to Mr Sowerbutts’ face, it may have been caused by a headbutt inside the taxi, DC French said.

“Outside the cab at the time of his fall there was no punch,” he said.

Recording a conclusion of accidental death, area coroner Yvonne Blake said: “It is clear Mr Sowerbutts died as a result of a tragic altercation with one of his best friends. The police have come to the conclusion they can’t be sure there was any kind of actual blow and that Mr Sowerbutts may have simply collapsed and fallen backwards as a result of the very large amount of alcohol he had imbibed.”

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