Jury in citizen’s arrest case told public ‘must not take law into own hands’

Nathan Smith is accused of killing Craig Wiltshire, who suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest when he was being pinned down in the street.

Nathan Smith court case
Nathan Smith court case

The public are not allowed to take the law into their own hands, a jury trying a man accused of suffocating a suspected burglar has been told.

Full-time carer Nathan Smith, 38, is accused of killing 43-year-old Craig Wiltshire, who suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest when the defendant tackled him in the street and pinned him down.

Smith restrained Mr Wiltshire for 12 minutes in a Bristol suburb before police arrived in the early hours of November 20 2019, and for nine of those minutes he had his knee on his back.

The victim died in hospital from catastrophic brain damage two weeks later.

In CCTV footage of the incident, Mr Wiltshire can be heard telling Smith he cannot breathe, and groaning as he strains to move and fill his lungs.

Nathan Smith court case
A stone carving of the royal coat of arms above a sign for The Law Courts outside the entrance to Bristol Crown Court, where Nathan Smith is on trial for the manslaughter of suspected burglar Craig Wiltshire (PA)

During his trial for manslaughter at Bristol Crown Court, Smith claimed he thought the victim was faking so that he would release him.

In his closing speech on Monday, prosecutor James Ward said: “All that was required was some reasonableness in restraint, all (Smith) needed to do was to ease off a bit, he didn’t need to move him from the prone position, he just needed to ease off.”

He added: “If he had eased off, there would have been no death.”

Mr Ward said that in making a citizen’s arrest, everyone is required to use reasonable force “whether you like it or not”.

“You are not allowed to beat up criminals, that is called taking the law into your own hands and you are not allowed to do it.”

The prosecution allege that Smith took the opportunity to “punish” Mr Wiltshire while he waited for the police, and he is heard to call him a “piece of s***” and a “c***”.

The first time Mr Wiltshire says he cannot breathe, Smith replied: “I don’t give a s*** what you can or can’t do.”

“That’s not restraint, that’s punishment,” Mr Ward said.

Describing Mr Wiltshire’s final moments, the prosecutor said: “He struggled, desperate to breathe, desperate to make enough room in his chest to breathe and the force was too much.

“He was trapped between the defendant and the unyielding pavement – as unyielding as the man pushing him down.”

Mr Ward said: “When he moved (the victim) was clearly not trying to escape, he was trying to breathe.”

He added: “Restraint is not about you not being able to move, it is about holding you until the police arrive, with you being alive at the end.”

The jury must decide if the level of force used by Smith, who had no knowledge of police restraint techniques or of Mr Wiltshire’s pre-existing heart condition, was lawful.

Mr Ward said: “You’ve heard struggling sounds, you’ve heard shrieking, you’ve heard some horrific things on the CCTV – if you heard that, would you say ‘carry on lads, teach him a lesson’? Or would you say ‘stop it, get off him?’”

Smith’s employer Michael Crooks is also seen in the CCTV footage adding his weight to Mr Wiltshire for a few minutes, while his son Ben Crooks is seen kicking the prone man twice.

They have both admitted a charge of common assault and were not charged with manslaughter.

The jury are due to retire to consider their verdict on Tuesday.

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