THE stepson of former Tunbridge Wells squash champion and businessman Colin Payne has been acquitted of his manslaughter in a case the judge described as a ‘truly’ a ‘tragedy’.
Members of the jury of seven men and five women took six hours and 44 minutes to acquit 18-year-old Douglas Herridge by returning a not guilty verdict on Monday (May 15).
Mr Payne, who ran the Ripples bathroom store when it was next to The Pantiles, died after he was punched in the head by Mr Herridge during a confrontation at the family home in Dartford in November.
Mr Herridge was initially put on trial for murder, but Judge Jeremy Carey told the jury they would only have to consider a verdict on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Mr Herridge pleaded not guilty to the charge of manslaughter and maintained that he had acted in self-defence after his 54-year-old stepfather grabbed him round the neck.
When giving evidence during the trial at Maidstone Crown Court, the defendant accepted he had killed Mr Payne but said he had got on well with his stepfather.
He said he remembered throwing two punches as he was ‘scared’ and ‘wanted to defend himself’ after Mr Payne had a hold ‘tight around my neck’.
The first punch missed but the second caught Mr Payne on the side of his face. He then fell slowly to the floor and died shortly after from a brain injury.
Asked by his barrister Judith Khan QC whether he would have hit Mr Payne if he was not being choked as he said, Mr Herridge replied: “No, never, no.”
The teenager’s mother, Mrs Ina Herridge, witnessed the incident and called for help from a decorator in the house at the time. Her son walked out of the house.
Mrs Herridge, an NHS risk assessor, gave evidence for the prosecution.
It is understood she had not spoken to her son since the incident but was seen sitting with him outside the courthouse following the verdict. She spoke afterwards only to say the trial had been ‘very stressful’.
Judge Carey said he had ‘no doubt’ about how taxing the case was for the jury and the families of both the defendant and the deceased, adding: “The word tragedy is probably overused, not least in these courts, but this case can truly be described as a tragedy in my judgement.”