A frail Warwick pensioner had such severe heart disease that he could have died ‘in any event at any time,’ even without having confronted a young man who had banged on his window.
And a jury heard it was not possible to say to what extend the stress of the incident or the exertion of swinging a broom at alleged culprit Stephen Jones contributed to his death.
Jones (25) who is from Warwick but of no fixed address, has pleaded not guilty at Warwick Crown Court to the manslaughter of 75-year-old William Heathcote in November 2014.
He and Frankie McDonagh, 19, of Cherry Street, Warwick, Paige Tomlinson, 18, of Mercia Way, Warwick, and Stephan Reilly ,19, of Willes Road, Leamington, all deny perverting the course of justice, and Jones also denies intimidating a teenage witness.
It is alleged that at 8.20pm on November 18, Jones banged on the window of Mr Heathcote’s home in Pickard Street, Warwick.
Prosecutor Ben Aina QC said that was intended to taunt the pensioner, known as Bill, who had suffered from a stroke in 2007 and had a heart condition.
It did so, and Bill came out in a state of annoyance, without putting on socks or shoes, and holding a broom with the handle-end away from him, shouting at Jones to go away.
He began swinging the broom at Jones, who was laughing and dodging out of the way, knocking the broom away, but remaining close to Bill, ‘taunting him by his presence.’
“At one point Bill was able to hit Steven Jones on the shoulder with the broom, but Steven Jones just laughed and then ran towards his young friends,” said Mr Aina.
“It was at this point Bill suffered a heart attack and collapsed. An ambulance was summoned and he was taken to Warwick Hospital, but was declared dead at 9.35 in the evening.
“It is the prosecution case Steven Jones was responsible for the death of Bill and in law is guilty of his manslaughter.”
Consultant forensic pathologist Professor Olaf Biedrzycki told the jury he had examined Bill’s body and had given the direct cause of death as ‘acute left ventricular failure,’ with high blood pressure as a secondary element.
He explained: “The immediate cause of death is that his heart stopped beating correctly; but in part two you put other conditions which are not directly related to the cause of death but are potential risk factors.
“In this case, the underlying cause of death is heart disease, and having high blood pressure is a risk factor for getting heart disease.”
Prof Biedrzycki said Bill, who was 6ft 2in tall and ‘very slightly overweight, had no defensive injuries to suggest he had been hit by anyone before he collapsed.
To confirm his conclusion on the cause of death, he said Bill’s heart was also examined by an expert heart pathologist who found he had died ‘as a result of chronic ischemic heart disease.’
Prof Biedrzycki said Bill had widespread fibrosis in the left side of his heart, which was evidence that he had suffered heart attacks in the past, as a result of which his heart had become enlarged ‘through beating against increased resistance.’
There was also ‘significant atheroma,’ a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries limiting the flow of blood to the heart, which he compared to ‘a limiter on the rate a car can go.’
One coronary artery he found to be 90% blocked by fatty deposits, while another was so badly blocked that he was ‘not able to see where the blood was flowing through it.’
“You might be OK if you’re just sitting down, but if you start doing heavy physical exertion it makes your heart beat faster, and it needs extra oxygen but can’t get any more because of the limited blood-flow.
“It can get to the point that the heart is critically starved of blood and says ‘I can’t go on like this any more.’ That point is completely unpredictable.”
He said that if he had been told Bill had been found dead in bed, the moment he had examined the heart he would have been satisfied his death had been caused by his heart disease.
But he continued that although physical exertion would increase the risk of heart failure, psychological stress when someone encounters a difficult situation could also do so.
Prof Biedrzycki explained: “He could have died at any time, without a stressful situation. But any additional stress would have made his heart beat harder and faster, which would have put him at risk of having a sudden heart arrhythmia.
“He might have died in any event at any time, but the jury have to consider the whole of the circumstances.”
Judge Richard Griffith-Jones asked whether, given the stressful situation of the banging on the window and the physical exertion of swinging the broom, he was able to say which of the events was most likely to have caused Bill’s heart failure.
He responded: “I am not. If you are exerting yourself physically and are emotionally distressed, both could raise your heartbeat, but I can’t apportion it.
“With his level of heart disease, even if it was just the emotional stress he could have had heart failure.”
The judge put to him that if the emotional upset did not precipitate it, and it only happened after the physical exertion, would it be fair to say it was more likely to be that which caused it rather than the stress.
But Prof Biecrzycki said: “It’s hard to say. The heart was required to beat faster, but it only had limited capacity. I don’t think I can tease that out for you.
“If he had collapsed an hour after the event, I don’t think any of us would be here today.” The trial continues.