Dad died when ‘game of slaps’ with teenage son went tragically wrong

Dad died when ‘game of slaps’ with teenage son went tragically wrong

 

A dad died when a ‘game of slaps’ with his son went tragically wrong and he fall backwards, hitting his head on the road, an inquest heard.

Army veteran Malcolm Callender, 48, and his son Ewan had been playing the game after watching football when he reeled backwards and fell, fatally striking his head.

A coroner heard that 19-year-old Ewan was not keen on hitting his bigger-built father, the bursar of prestigious Wellington College, but did it because he wanted to make him proud, with horrific consequences.

Malcolm, who had struck Ewan with a stinging slap when they want out to watch football on April 12 last year, stood with his hands behind his back and said to his son: “Right, you can have your free shot.”

Witnesses saw Ewan clench his fists on Friar Street in Reading, Berks., before he delivered the slap which sent Mr Callender senior’s head backwards onto the road.

The inquest in Reading heard how more than 18 months after Ewan Callender was arrested by police at the scene, the Crown Prosecution Service decided they would not prosecute him for any offence.

Ian Wade QC, assistant coroner for Berkshire and a barrister with over 35 years experience at the criminal bar, explained during the inquest into Mr Callender’s death today that the slap should be seen as legal “horseplay.”

The inquest heard how Ewan, who had himself been in the British Army for around three years, had been out with his private school bursar father and their friends on April 12 last year, to watch Newcastle, his father’s team, play football.

The 19-year-old son, who had answered the police questions in interview, wiped away tears as he entered the witness box and answered the coroner’s questions about the night of drinking at the Yates and O’Neill’s bars in Reading.

Mr Wade warned the teenager that he did not need to answer any questions where he felt the answer might tend to incriminate him, although he added he was free to reply if he wished.

CCTV footage in the bar which the coroner had viewed showed Mr Callender senior raise his hand and strike his son, who went to retaliate but instead embraced his father, the inquest heard.

“Dad slapped me around the face on the way out,” Ewan said, “just because we were messing around. It is just normal. There was nothing aggressive about it.

“It was when we were outside near the front door. Me and Luke were gonna stay out, dad was going to go home with his friends. We started walking towards the station, we must have been in mid-conversation. He [dad] said, ‘right, you can have your free shot’.

“I knew exactly what he meant, I get to slap him now. Luke was like, ‘come on, you do not want to do that because you know you are going to lose’.”

The coroner asked: “He was just persuading you that this was not a game that you were likely to win?”

Mr Callender junior replied: “I never win.”

The young man’s mother – Malcolm Callender’s wife – had told the inquest in her statement that the slapping between father and son was a common game they played.

Catherine Morrison-Callender, also an Army veteran, said: “As a family, we would always be messing about with each other and we would be giving each other quick little digs in the ribs which we called ‘fingers of steel’.

“We would wrestle with each other where we would try to grab the other person and take them to the ground. Another game we would play was slaps.

“When Ewan was about 15 years old, he and Malcolm would progress to try to slap each other around the face. Malcolm would always be winding him up, saying, ‘you reckon you can take me yet?’

“Malcolm was very competitive so he would never let Ewan win, he would use it as a reminder that Ewan was not quite big enough yet.

“After Malcolm passed away I spoke to Ewan about what happened. From what he described, it sounded just like the games that they had been playing together since Ewan was a kid.”

Luke Key, who had travelled from Birmingham to see his friend Ewan, told the inquest how he had seen Malcolm Callender slap his son and said they were both happy and laughing.

Mr Key said: “Ewan and I are aware of a game which I call slaps. There are videos of it all over Facebook. Normally people have three goes each and a judge works out who wins.

“It is a bit of an Army thing and Ewan and Malcolm had that sort of relationship. He always had a strong relationship with his dad.”

Mr Keys had witnessed Mr Callender senior challenging his son to slap him and stating “he’s got to do it”, the inquest heard.

“I could see in Ewan’s face that he really did not want to do it,” Mr Key said, “although I got the impression that he had something to prove to his dad.

“Ewan looked up to his dad as he was a higher-up figure in the Army and he wanted to make his dad proud.”

After clenching and unclenching his fists, Ewan struck his father an open-handed slap with his right hand and Mr Callender senior fell onto the floor outside the Matchbox bar in Reading, the coroner heard.

As nearby security staff and other bystanders at the scene rushed to try to assist Mr Callender, Ewan was heard screaming “wake up Dad! Dad I love you!”, before police arrested him, Mr Key told the inquest.

Mr Callender senior was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital where he was treated for an acute subdural haemorrhage but he died in the early hours of the following morning and a cause of death was given as “blunt force trauma to the head.”

A toxicology examination found Mr Callender senior was over twice the drink-drive limit for alcohol but had no other substances in his body.

Mr Wade said he would not reach a conclusion that Mr Callender had died from unlawful killing, explaining: “The law recognises that consent is a legitimate concept in the law of assault and the application of force that is consented to, is not assault.

“You are allowed to consent to the application of force in sport, after all if it were not so then every contact sport and every martial art would be against the law.

“You are also allowed to consent to the application of force in what is a rather Victorian way called horseplay. It seems to me that what took place here fulfils the definition of horseplay.”

Concluding the inquest with a narrative verdict Mr Wade said Mr Callender died after “engaging in non-aggressive, not hostile, consensual horesplay.”

Malcolm Callender, who lived in Gardens Cottage in the grounds of the famous Wellington College in Crowthorne, had been born in Tyne and Wear, Newcastle and left school at 15 to join the Army, the inquest heard.

Mrs Morrison-Callender told Mr Wade: “He always wanted to be a soldier, he would be playing with toy soldiers out in the garden.

“He joined the Royal Engineers and throughout the 1990s he went on a number of tours in Bosnia and he was gradually moving up the ranks.”

Mrs Morrison-Callender had met Mr Callender in 2000 when they were both posted at the same regiment of the 22nd Engineers, where she was a Lance Corporal and he was a Staff Sergeant.

After living in Germany as a couple and completing various postings, Mr Callender had been promoted to Captain and then Quartermaster.

“In 2012, Malcolm made the decision to leave the Army, he felt as if he had ‘been there and done it'”, his wife told the inquest.

In 2015, Mr Callender became the works and estates bursar at Wellington College after getting a call from an old contact he made during the millitary.

His wife said: “He ran his department like a little military unit. He would organise a number of different socials, from BBQs in our garden to getting everyone to do the Tough Mudder race.”

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