Missing airman Corrie McKeague punched nightclub manager months before he disappeared, inquest told

Airman Corrie McKeague disappeared after a night out in Bury St Edmunds.
Airman Corrie McKeague disappeared after a night out in Bury St Edmunds.

RAF gunner Corrie McKeague punched a nightclub manager in an incident months before he vanished on a night out in 2016, an inquest has heard.

The airman, of Dunfermline, Fife, was 23 when he disappeared in the early hours of September 24, 2016, after a night out in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Police believe that Mr McKeague, who was stationed at RAF Honington, climbed into a bin which was then tipped into a waste lorry.

He had been asked to leave Flex nightclub in the early hours, with his last sighting on CCTV at 3.25am entering a service area behind a Greggs store.

Ben Manning, general manager of Flex, told an inquest in Ipswich that Mr McKeague had punched him in the face in February 2016.

"Someone came in and said there was a fight out in the smoking area," he said.

"I went out there along with the door staff, separated it, I got punched by Corrie at the time then they got taken out.

"Police said later on that night he got arrested for drunk and disorderly.

"Police said 'do you want to press charges', I said yes.

"He came along to apologise the next week, I dropped the charges."

Mr Manning said it "wasn't personal, I think I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time".

He said he had been behind Mr McKeague, and Mr McKeague was facing away from him, adding: "I don't think he intended to hit me."

He said he sustained a slight bruise to his right cheek.

Mr Manning said he barred Mr McKeague from the premises for a month "for hitting a personal licence holder" and Mr McKeague "shook my hand and went off".

He said there were no further incidents.

CCTV of Corrie McKeague in Bury St Edmunds on the night he went missing.

Mr Manning said he saw Mr McKeague on the night he disappeared, as the serviceman arrived at the nightclub.

"He gave me a hug, said 'I love you' in a slurred way, I asked if he was drunk and he said yes," he said.

Asked how drunk he thought Mr McKeague was, Mr Manning replied: "On a scale of one to 10 I would say seven."

Questioned by lawyer Adam Walker, for Mr McKeague's mother Nicola Urquhart, why Mr McKeague was allowed in, Mr Manning said: "He wasn't stumbling about and he was just happy and cheerful and there were no problems with him other than that time in February.

"There seemed no reason not to (let him in to the nightclub)."

James Dilnot, head doorman at the Corn Exchange Wetherspoon pub where Mr McKeague had been drinking earlier that night, said Mr McKeague gave him a hug as he left the venue.

Mr Dilnot said Mr McKeague was "coherent" but "had quite a few (drinks) - you could tell by the big eyes, rosy cheeks, he had quite a few to be fair".

"He always had a laugh and a joke," he said.

"He gave me a hug, wrapped his arms round me, then he disappeared round the corner heading to the nightclub Flex."

The inquest, which is due to last up to four weeks, continues.