Carer suffocated suspected burglar during citizen’s arrest, court hears

Nathan Smith is accused of the manslaughter of Craig Wiltshire after he knelt on his back for nine minutes.

Tess de La Mare
Monday 17 January 2022 17:23
Craig Wiltshire died from injuries sustained during a citizens arrest (Peter Byrne/PA)
Craig Wiltshire died from injuries sustained during a citizens arrest (Peter Byrne/PA)

A carer suffocated a suspected burglar after kneeling on his back for nine minutes while performing a citizen’s arrest, despite the victim telling him he could not breathe, a court has heard.

Nathan Smith, 38, is on trial at Bristol Crown Court accused of the manslaughter of 43-year-old Craig Wiltshire, who died in hospital on December 4 2019, two weeks after he was detained by Smith.

The jury heard a man matching Mr Wiltshire’s description had repeatedly attempted to break into cars and tried front doors in the neighbourhood of Smith’s employer in the weeks before the incident.

Despite repeated complaints to the police, the thief was never caught and there was no active police investigation into the attempted break-ins.

At around 1.30am on November 20 2019, Michael Crooks, a man in his 50s, spotted Mr Wiltshire arriving in the area on his CCTV camera dressed in black and riding a bike, and asked his son Ben to come over.

But it was his carer Smith who ran into the street and tackled Mr Wiltshire to the ground and proceeded to pin him chest down in the road with his head twisted to the side.

He was held in the position for 12 minutes, the jury heard and for nine out of the 12 minutes Smith was kneeling on his back.

Ben Crooks arrived by car a few minutes later and kicked the prone man before calling the police.

On CCTV played in court, Mr Wiltshire can be heard to say twice “I can’t breathe”, and Smith replies “I don’t give a f***”.

Mr Wiltshire is heard clearly groaning for breath while Smith shouts repeatedly: “You f****** piece of shit”.

Michael Crooks shouts “let’s get the c***, let’s break his arm first” and at one point adds his weight to the pressure on Mr Wiltshire.

When police arrived they believed Mr Wiltshire was faking being unconscious, and he was handcuffed and officers can be heard trying to coax him to get up.

A post-mortem later gave a cause of death as cardiorespiratory arrest and subsequent brain damage.

A general view of the mirrored sign outside Bristol Crown Court (Ben Birchall/PA)

James Ward prosecuting, said: “The crown says the force was not reasonable and therefore unlawful, this is why Nathan Smith is charged with manslaughter.”

He continued: “What you need to consider in this trial is the word ‘lawful’, whilst Nathan Smith has to accept that the force he used caused the death of Craig Wiltshire, he says it was reasonable and therefore lawful.”

In his police interview, Smith gave a prepared statement stating that Mr Wiltshire had been trying to reach for his pocket and that he feared he was trying to get a weapon.

He added he had been making a citizen’s arrest and that he feared Mr Wiltshire would get away, adding that he had also been trying to bite and spit.

Mr Ward said that the crown’s case was that the use of force was “excessive and unreasonable”.

He continued: “Nathan Smith took the opportunity to get retribution and physically hurt Craig Wiltshire as punishment for the crimes he had allegedly committed in the neighbourhood.”

“The citizen’s arrest was lawful, the actual detention and subsequent restraint was lawful, however the nature and the extent of the force used by Nathan Smith was not lawful.”

The jury was told to assume that Mr Wiltshire was the man suspected of committing burglaries in the neighbourhood over the previous weeks, and that the arrest was not a case of mistaken identity.

The court heard the actions of Ben and Michael Crooks did not cause the death of Mr Wiltshire and they have therefore not been charged with manslaughter.

They have both admitted a charge of common assault.

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