A man who suffocated a suspected burglar while performing a citizen’s arrest in the street has been cleared of manslaughter.
Nathan Smith, a 38-year-old carer, knelt on Craig Wiltshire’s back for nine minutes in the early hours of 20 November 2019 after tackling him to the ground.
He refused to ease off when the victim, 43, told him he could not breathe twice, telling him “I don’t give a s*** what you can and can’t do”.
Mr Wiltshire died in hospital two weeks later.
On Wednesday, a jury at Bristol Crown Court cleared Smith of manslaughter after four hours and seven minutes of deliberations.
Smith said he believed Mr Wiltshire was “pretending” to be in distress so that he would be released and could escape, and denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Wiltshire was suspected of being behind a string of thefts and break-ins in the Bristol suburb where Smith was working as a live-in carer.
However, there was no active police investigation into the crimes despite repeated complaints to the police, so the thief was never caught.
Victim had pre-existing heart condition
A post-mortem revealed that Mr Wiltshire had the sedative diazepam and the heroin-substitute methadone in his system, as well as a pre-existing heart condition.
Smith said he was unaware that the victim was vulnerable to cardiorespiratory arrest, and that he did not know leaving someone in the prone position for a prolonged period of time was dangerous.
During the trial, the prosecution argued that Smith took the opportunity to punish Mr Wiltshire for his alleged crimes because he was angry.
Prosecutor James Ward said Smith hurled abusive insults at the victim including calling him a “f****** piece of shit” as proof he wanted to hurt him.
Smith said in response: “I was being loud so other people would come, I didn’t want to shout ‘help’ so he knew I needed help, and I wanted to make him think I was more in control than I was.”
He denied being angry or wanting to punish Mr Wiltshire, adding: “I just wanted the police to come and get him.”
Smith also told the court he feared Mr Wiltshire had a weapon on him because he had been reaching for his pockets.
Method of restraint not ‘inappropriate’
Professor Jason Payne-James, expert in forensic and legal medicine, told the court he did not believe Smith’s method of restraint, as a member of the public with no training, was inappropriate.
He added: “In terms of the persistence of the prone restraint, I believe that would have been inappropriate if police personnel had continued that for that length of time without moving or monitoring (Mr Wiltshire).”
Jurors also heard from a neighbour in the area, Kimberly Lock, who said the community had been “terrorised” by the break-ins, adding she had extra locks fitted to her house, including a sliding bolt to her bedroom.
CCTV footage also captured Smith’s employer Michael Crooks adding his weight to Mr Wiltshire for a few minutes, while his son Ben Crooks is seen kicking him twice.
Both have admitted a charge of common assault and were not charged with manslaughter.
The jury was told to assume that Mr Wiltshire was the man suspected of committing burglaries in the community over the previous weeks, and that the arrest was not a case of mistaken identity.