As single hit punches cause injury and death across the country, Tara Geraghty examines this shocking phenomenon
A ’king hit’ refers to a sudden forceful punch to the head, neck or chest intended to knock a person unconscious. It is often an unprovoked attack on a defenceless or vulnerable victim and is usually delivered without warning. The one punch assault was named after King James I who allegedly knocked a judge unconscious with a single blow for daring to suggest that he was subject to the law. The grim reality is that these attacks are often fatal.
There is much contention surrounding the title given to these deadly blows. To refer to these brutal attacks as a ‘king hit’ implies that there is a sense of nobility in the act, which is far from the truth. Families of the victims have argued that assaults of this nature should be referred to as a ‘cowards punch’ as they are often unleashed without warning and allow the victim no time to defend themselves.
The king hit is a horrifyingly widespread epidemic in Australia, resulting in the deaths of 87 men and four women since 2000, with the victims ranging in age from 15 to 78. In over a third of these cases the victim did not know their attacker. It is clear from these statistics that anyone can become a victim of the mindless one punch assault. The latest victim of the king hit in Australia was Daniel Christie who died two weeks after being punched to the ground on New Year’s Eve 2013.
In 2008 Western Australia sought to tackle the problem of unjust lenient sentencing for those convicted of committing one punch killings. Before the introduction of new laws the perpetrators of such crimes could not be charged with murder as there was no evidence of intent to kill. It was also difficult to win a conviction of manslaughter as the defence could argue that it wasn’t the punch that caused death, but the subsequent impact with the ground and thus it could be ruled as accidental.
Due to the unfortunate widespread phenomena of king hit deaths a new law was devised to justly punish the aggressors of a one punch assault. The new law eradicated the requirement to prove that a defendant had any awareness that the person could die as a result of a single blow. The law has seen a decline in the number of recorded king hit assaults in Western Australia but the issue is not without controversy. There are concerns that it is now possible for perpetrators of other violent assaults causing death to plead guilty to a one punch assault to avoid the more serious charges of manslaughter and murder.
“Assaults under the influence of alcohol or drugs are the most common cases to come before the courts in Ireland. It is an issue that gardaí are all too familiar with…”
Research conducted by the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS) found that alcohol is a major contributing factor in the one punch assaults. This has prompted the introduction of new laws in New South Wales to allow fair punishment for these cowardly attacks. In January of this year the New South Wales Government introduced a 16 point plan to deter street violence with particular focus on one punch assaults. Along with major changes to liquor licensing laws the new plan includes a 20 year maximum sentence if a person dies as a result of a one punch assault and an eight year minimum and 25 year maximum sentence if the one punch assault was alcohol or drug fuelled. The plan also allows police to conduct drug and alcohol tests on suspected violent offenders.
The implication of the new legislation was fuelled by the widespread public outcry at the minimum four year sentence handed down to the killer of 18 year old Thomas Kelly last November. Thomas was struck by a single blow to the head as he was walking down the street with his girlfriend and died two days later. Thomas’s killer had committed four other king hit attacks on the same night as Thomas was killed.
King hits are not just an international phenomenon however. There have unfortunately been many cases of the one punch assault seen in Ireland. The king hit assault was first brought to light in Ireland 13 years ago in the case of Brian Murphy. Murphy, who was just two weeks short of his 19th birthday at the time, was brutally attacked outside the Burlington hotel by a group of four young men. He died in the early hours of August 30th, 2000 of cerebral oedema and inhalation of blood. In 2004 one of the perpetrators was convicted of manslaughter and violent disorder, one was acquitted of all charges and two were convicted of violent disorder.
However in 2006 a nolle prosequi was entered due to “ongoing evidential difficulties”. The events of this night were the subject of the award winning 2012 film, “What Richard Did”. What stood out about this case is the profile of the perpetrators of the attack. The four young men were a privileged group of teenagers from Dublin’s southside who had committed an act that most would associate with hardened thugs. Another striking feature of this particular attack was the lenient sentencing handed down for the fatal assault. It may be of no coincidence that on the night of the attack the nightclub where the group had been drinking were advertising a drinks promotion, promoting the mass consumption of cheap alcohol.
Assaults under the influence of alcohol or drugs are the most common cases to come before the courts in Ireland. It is an issue that gardaí are all too familiar with.
There is unfortunately no simple solution to deter these mindless acts though there are ways to raise awareness of the problem. Since 2004 20 people have been killed in Northern Ireland as a direct result of a one punch attack with the majority of cases being fuelled by alcohol. In response to this problem the PSNI launched an awareness campaign aimed at young males aged between 18 and 25. Statistics highlight that males in this age range are the most likely to be involved in these attacks, as both the victim and the perpetrator.
Raising awareness of the potential fatality of these attacks is the key to prevention. It is important to highlight that the decision to carry out a one punch assault is not just a momentary act and it can lead to utter devastation for both the families of the victims and the aggressors. Thirty seconds of drunken aggression can result in the ending of a life and the destruction and devastation of many others, as is the case for the family of Brian Murphy.
Australia is pioneering the clampdown on one punch assaults and Ireland should aim to follow suit. With the introduction of tougher penalties for the perpetrators of antisocial violent crimes and stricter laws on alcohol consumption, Australia has seen an immediate decline in the number of king hit assaults. The Australian police force is the key to the successful implementation and enforcement of the clampdown leading to a reduction in violent crime. It is time for Ireland to stand up and act to put an end to these mindless acts of violence.
Tara Geraghty is a post graduate student in Applied Psychology at Trinity College Dublin