A mother from Gwynedd who lost her son to a one punch assault is calling for tougher sentences for perpetrators.
Becky White’s 20 year old son, Dean Skillin, died following an unprovoked attack outside a hotel in Bangor in September 2020.
His killer, Brandon Sillence, 25 years old and from Bangor, was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars in December 2021.
Dean’s family have started a petition calling on the UK government to change the sentencing for one punch assaults so that it matches that of a murder sentence.
The Ministry of Justice has told ITV Cymru Wales that they are planning on increasing sentences for the most serious offenders.
In her first interview with Y Byd ar Bedwar, Ms White explains how her life has become a “nightmare” since the death of her son.
Dean had been out drinking with his cousin at the Waverley Hotel in Bangor on the night of September 19 2020, when another man, Brandon Sillence, launched an attack on the two without warning.
His cousin soon recovered but Dean instantly fell to the floor, and despite efforts by the officers and paramedics, died in hospital the following morning.
Losing her son has brought on “unbearable pain” says Ms White.
“It’s just a nightmare, your child goes out the door one Friday night and never comes home. It’s really painful.”
Tracey Skillin, Dean’s aunt, says the incident has had a “devastating impact on the family”, and has left her very concerned about her own children, who are around the same age as Dean, whenever they go out.
Brandon Sillence pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years behind bars, just a few days after the jury found him not guilty of murder.
The court case and sentence was a huge disappointment to the family.
Ms White, who found it too difficult to attend the sentencing, wrote to the judge explaining that she feels her “son’s life means nothing”. “You know no sentencing would have ever been enough for my son’s life, but I would have liked to see more – and for all the other families that have had to lose someone.”
The family want to see sentencing for one punch assaults that cause death to be increased so that they equal the sentencing for murder, which would be life imprisonment.
“You don’t punch someone without intention of causing them harm,” explains Dean’s aunt, Ms Skillin.
His mother added: “I want to see it equal to murder if you kill somebody with your fist. 'Cause if you kill someone with one bullet, one stab, why is it different with one punch? Because that’s they’re weapon – so why is it different?
“He’ll [Sillence] be out by the time he’s 35. And we’ve got this for life.”
‘Difficult to prove intention’
Murder is a more serious offence than manslaughter, and must show that there was an intention to kill or cause serious harm.
According to defence lawyer Eilian Williams, it’s very difficult to prove whether an individual had intended to kill someone when they throw a punch.
“More often than not, it’s a fight in a street, it’s difficult then for the jury to decide whether that was intentional from the beginning.”
He adds that a punch also isn’t “recognised as a weapon” in a legal setting, and that that definition relies much on the circumstances, for instance, if a person is a trained fighter.
With no official figures for one punch deaths, charities estimate that over 100 cases have taken place since 2007.
Many have made the headlines in Wales, with Keyron Curtis, Karl Saffy and Carl Chinnock all losing their lives to one punch in 2021.
Dehenna Davison, the Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland in the north east of England, says there is a “strange notion that because it’s a fist and not a knife it’s not as serious, but these things can be just as dangerous as we know”.
Ms Davison lost her father Dominic to a one punch assault in 2007 when she was just 13 years old.
Since being elected to Westminster, Ms Davison has set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for One Punch Assaults.
Through the group she is aiming to deliver a set of proposals to Parliament based on the real-life experiences of victims and their families.
Speaking with Ms White and Mrs Skillin in Westminster, the 28-year-old politician told them that she is looking into the potential of creating a new category of offence which she thinks would be better suited for one punch assaults.
She later told presenter Dot Davies that she has a “long way to go” before then but “certainly there’s an appetite within Parliament and within government to see things changed”.
The family’s petition has so far gathered over 15,000 signatures, and the UK Government has told ITV Wales that they will offer a response soon.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice added: “Manslaughter already has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and we are toughening sentences so that the most serious offenders spend longer behind bars.”
While nothing will bring Dean back, his family hope to see change which would give others living with the consequences of a fatal punch a greater sense of justice.
You can watch the full programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar, on Wednesday February 9 at 8.25pm on S4C.