Man died from alleged ‘one punch’ after stepping aside to maintain social distancing from stranger, trial hears

A man died after being punched to the face after he stepped to the side to ‘maintain social distancing’ from a stranger, a trial has heard.

Joseph Henderson, aged 53, was walking along Wilmslow Road when Oscar Shepherd caught up to him, Minshull Street Crown Court heard.

Mr Henderson stepped to one side to allow him to pass, but seconds later he was allegedly punched in the face, and fell backwards, hitting the back of his head.

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Eight days later he sadly died as a result of the impact to his brain, the court heard.

Mr Shepherd, of Wythenshawe, has pleaded not guilty to an offense of manslaughter.

Prosecutor Rob Hall said the incident took place at approximately 5.09pm on August 12 of last year when both Mr Henderson, and Mr Shepherd, 20, were walking in the same direction along Wilmslow Road in Withington.

“Mr Shepherd caught up with Mr Henderson as Mr Henderson was walking,” he told the jury.

“My Henderson stood back to let Mr Shepherd come past to maintain some social distancing.

“There followed an interaction between these two men which lasted for a period of seconds and resulted in Mr Shepherd punching Mr Henderson in the face.

“They were strangers up until this moment.

“The force of Mr Shepherd’s punch caused Mr Henderson to fall straight backwards without putting his hands out to break his fall.”

The court heard that Mr Henderson’s head impacted with the pavement.

“The Crown say the force used by Mr Shepherd upon Mr Henderson was unlawful and so Mr Shepherd is guilty of manslaughter,” Mr Hall continued.

“It may be suggested that Mr Shepherd, by using that force, was acting lawfully in the sense he was acting in self defence, therefore he is not guilty of manslaughter. That is the issue in the case.”

Mr Shepherd had been working as a laborer at The Woodlands in Heaton Mersey from July 21 to August 4, it was said.

On August 4 he received a message from his manager warning him about his ‘poor working performance’ and after working there for a further six days, his contract was terminated on August 12 the jury were told.

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Mr Shepherd made a call to an alternative employer, and cell site data showed that he left his home address in Wythenshawe, headed into the city center and then traveled to Withington, the court heard.

In CCTV footage, Mr Henderson could be seen walking past the Shell Garage on Wilmslow Road at around 4.42pm on August 12.

He was then seen to go into the AZ Pound Plus Store before continuing along Wilmslow Road.

The prosecutor said CCTV footage shows the incident took place between 5.08pm and 57 seconds and 5.09pm and 40 seconds.

“What the CCTV footage shows is that Mr Henderson and Mr Shepherd were both caught on Wilmslow Road walking in the same direction towards the bus stop,” he said.

“At 5.09.09 Mr Henderson was walking and Mr Shepherd passed him by and at 5.09.17 both were out of view and behind the foliage.

The Wilmslow Road bus stop, near the junction with Victoria Road in Fallowfield

“Eight seconds pass whilst Mr Shepherd and Mr Henderson are out of the view of the CCTV.

“At 5.09.25, Mr Henderson comes into view of the CCTV at the side of the bus stop and is then stationary for five seconds.

“At 5.09.30 Mr. Henderson falls to the ground, that is the moment, the Crown says, of the unlawful assault.

“Mr Henderson falls and Mr Shepherd walks onto the pavement and passes out of view of the CCTV.”

Further footage showed Mr Shepherd walking away from the scene, but returning around three minutes later.

A bus driver saw Mr Henderson lying on the ground unresponsive with blood on his chin and jawline, and appeared to be bleeding from the back of his head, the court heard.

He never regained consciousness to speak to anyone about the incident, it was said.

Mr Shepherd was next seen on CCTV eight minutes and 55 seconds later, walking back up Wilmslow Road in the opposite direction, wearing a long-sleeved black top.

In earlier footage he was seen wearing a short-sleeved black t-shirt.

An ambulance arrived at around 6.40pm, and paramedics found that Mr Henderson had a large bruise to the back of his skull and swelling to his top lip, jurors heard.

He was transported to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and following a trauma CT scan, it was found he had a bleed on the brain and a fracture to his skull, the prosecutor said.

He was then taken to Salford Royal Hospital to receive specialist neurosurgical care.

Following a number of surgeries, Mr Henderson died on August 20, the court was told.

The cause of death was recorded as blunt force trauma to the head.

Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester
Minshull Street Crown Court

That same day, GMP issued an appeal through Facebook to find the suspect of the alleged assault, and Mr Shepherd handed himself in the following day, it was said,

He gave four ‘no comment’ police interviews, the court heard.

Mr Shepherd is said to have no previous convictions recorded against him.

In a statement read to the court, Mr Henderson’s daughter said: “At the beginning of August of last year, he moved into a flat in Rusholme – he was happy and content.

“He was on heart medication and a blood thinner following a heart attack in 2010.

“I know he did have concerns about the COVID pandemic because of his health, and he didn’t like it if he had to go to the shops and he could not socially distance.

“During the pandemic I went shopping with him, and he did get concerned if anybody got too close to him in the street or in the shops.

“From one of the few occasions a person got too close and didn’t adhere to social distancing, he would hold up his hands and he would say ‘do you mind not getting too close’. He was never aggressive. He would then explain it was because of COVID.

“He was kind, well mannered, he would do anything and help anyone. He was a good man with a good sense of humour.”

Giving evidence, Pathologist Dr Jamie Robinson said: “In my opinion, I don’t think there was an attempt to break his fall, which suggests he lost consciousness or he was projected to the ground with such force that he has been unable to react in time.”

Mr Shepherd, of Aldfield Road, denies manslaughter.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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