Mechanic jailed for man’s death in citizen’s arrest is ‘not a killer’, says dad

A mechanic who killed hammer-wielding vandal in a ‘citizen’s arrest gone wrong’ acted bravely and shouldn’t be in prison, his dad says.

Supporters of Benjamin ‘Ben’ Hunt, who was sentenced to 38 months after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of Christopher Walters, 25, have asked Home Secretary Priti Patel to intervene.

Ben’s father Wayne Hunt said his son was “brave” and “some think he deserves a medal for protecting the public”.

Wayne said Ben, 32, should have taken his chances with a jury instead of pleading guilty, as he attempted to pass blame on to police officers who took 19 minutes to respond to the emergency.

Dad-of-one Ben and his boss Jonathan Hassall waited for police to arrive as they restrained Christopher after he used a sledgehammer to smash car windows in Longton.

Christopher, from Bentilee, was pronounced dead at the Royal Stoke University Hospital following the incident in May 2019.

Jonathan, 51, was found dead just days before he was due to go on trial.

At Ben’s sentencing hearing, the prosecution said he held Christopher “around the neck” on the ground and should have released his hold when Christopher was “clearly unconscious” and no longer resisting.

Christopher’s mum slammed the sentence as a “big joke”, while Ben’s family argued he shouldn’t gave gone to prison at all.

Ben’s dad Wayne has spoken out for the first time, saying his son should not be in prison and questioning why it took police 19 minutes to arrive

Wayne said: “Christopher walked down and grabbed a sledgehammer off the wagon next door to the garage and started smashing all the windows on the car.

“He was running off and shouting ‘I’m doing this for the white people of Stoke-on-Trent.’ That’s something which wasn’t mentioned in court.

“A schoolteacher had to get the kids in because they were out playing in the playground, they were frightened. She phoned 999.

“Ben went around in the car and caught up with him at the bottom of Wood Street where he and John detained him. When they got the police on the phone the woman said ‘keep him detained, we’ve had several phone calls about the situation. We are on our way’.

“That’s what they did, they held him there until the police came.

“If you phone the ambulance they talk you through it but nobody from the police told them how to restrain him.”

Wayne questioned why it took police 19 minutes to arrive.

He added: “Ben was doing what the police told him to do on the phone. It probably wouldn’t have happened if the police got there on time. We are still waiting for answers on why it took them so long.

“I’ve done the trip from Longton police station to where the incident happened. It takes five minutes.

“I’ve done it from Newcastle, it took me 19 minutes. I’ve done it from Hanley and it took me 17 minutes. I’ve got no sirens or blue lights so why did it take them over 19 minutes?

“If Ben held him too long, it’s because the police took that long.”

Ben’s family say he and Jonathan were advised to plead guilty because of footage captured by police bodycam.

Wayne believes his son should have taken his chances with a jury.

He said: “Ben had his hands around the head. The police told him that if the jury sees that, they’ll probably say he held him too tight.

“It’s terrible. Knowing that your son who’s never been in trouble in his life and hasn’t got a police record has to go through all this. He’s already had two years of it.

“Having pleaded guilty, the judge should have given him a suspended sentence.”

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling on Ben to be released from prison and asking the Home Secretary to intervene.

Wayne said: “Some think he deserves a medal for protecting the public that day.

“It’s good he’s got the support. A lot of people know and respect Ben. They know he isn’t a thug. He was just trying to help. He hasn’t even got a speeding ticket.

“That day when he went to work he didn’t expect all this.

“I got him a Saturday morning job there when he was 14. He’s been there for 17 years.

“He’s a normal hardworking lad. There’s thousands of people who say he was not that kind of person.

“He’s a brilliant son and you couldn’t wish for anything more. He has never brought us any trouble.

“We have all got to stick together as a family and sort it out. We want him out, there’s no other way.”

The last two years have been “torture” for the family, said Ben’s sister Jade.

The 30-year-old carer said: “What happened to Christopher was a tragic accident.

“Ben was very brave but if he’d realised anything might happen to Christopher he would never have done it, he’s not that person.

“I’m not happy with him being labelled a killer because that’s not who he is. He never set off that day intending to kill anyone. He’s a quiet lad who went to work to provide for his family. He’s just a brilliant brother and family-orientated man.

“These last two years have been awful for my mum and dad, his wife, his little girl who is missing him and cries herself to sleep every night.

“The stress he has been under for two years and then finding John, who was his best mate. He tried to resuscitate him. Ben hasn’t got over it. He was like a second father to him.

“They were told a week before the trial they had to plead guilty after two years of being told they would be acquitted.

“No normal person just comes along the street and grabs a sledgehammer and starts smashing cars up.

“Ben is going to suffer for the rest of his life. He only tried to protect the public and didn’t think about himself. He wasn’t out to do any harm to anyone.

“With how many supporters there are I’m hoping the justice system looks at the bigger picture, not just Christopher Walters’ side and understand how we are feeling. Ben has suffered enough and he is still suffering and still will it’s not fair.

“If you ask anybody about his character they would tell you exactly the same. We will carry on fighting for Ben.”

Responding to the father’s criticism, a spokesperson for Staffordshire Police said: “Ben Hunt pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Christopher Walters. The sentence he received was decided upon by the court.

“The court heard that the force used by the men was excessive and went on for too long. This was seen by several witnesses and resulted in Mr Walters’ death due to compression of his neck.

“On the day of the incident officers were already committed at incidents elsewhere in Stoke-on-Trent, but arrived at the scene as soon as they were able to.

“Ben Hunt did not phone the police and we did not issue any instructions to him or anyone else regarding restraint.”

Last month, Mr Walters’ mum Dawn Price, who has now lost three children, slammed the sentence as a “big joke” and “disgusting”.

She said: “I feel like I have been robbed of my son. My life has never been the same.

“It’s been almost a two year-long ordeal to get to this point and I don’t feel like I’ve been able to put my son to rest while we have been waiting for justice.

“I had to wait five months before his body could be released from the morgue. He died in May 2019 and we couldn’t have his funeral until the September. My son’s body lay in a morgue for five months.”

She added: “I don’t know why it took so long for the police to get there when the police station is a seconds drive away from where my son was.

“But when they didn’t arrive, why didn’t they just let my son get up? The police would have found him, my son would be alive and they could have charged him with criminal damage.

“A car window can be replaced, a life can’t.”