Man involved in fatal school fight had violent past, inquest told

A Co Down man involved in a fatal school-gate fight with a pupil’s grandfather had a string of convictions for violence, it was revealed today.

A Co Down man involved in a fatal school-gate fight with a pupil’s grandfather had a string of convictions for violence, it was revealed today.

The troubled past of James Faulkner, 46, was detailed at the inquest in Belfast of 63-year-old Clint Donnan, who died after a confrontation with Mr Faulkner outside Portavogie Primary School in Co Down on the last day of term before Christmas 2002.

Mr Donnan, who lived opposite the school in the fishing village’s New Harbour Road, had complained to Mr Faulkner about his parking in front of the school gates.

He was angry because his granddaughter had nearly been knocked over outside the school the day before, the inquest was told.

The inquest was told that when an angry Mr Donnan asked Mr Faulkner not to park at the school gates he replied: “What the f**k has it got to do with you”.

Mr Donnan responded by punching Mr Faulkner in the face, bloodying his nose.

A struggle ensued during which Mr Donnan hit the ground. Witnesses told the inquest both men swung punches but Mr Faulkner insisted he had not struck out, only defended himself.

A few hours after the fight Mr Donnan was found dead in the hallway of his house. State pathologist, Professor Jack Crane, said he died of subdural haemorrhage caused by a blood clot on the brain.

He said the likely cause was from a blow to the head or from striking his head on the ground in a fall.

Three days after the death police charged Mr Faulkner with murder but the charges were later dropped when the Director of Public Prosecutions directed no prosecution.

Mr Faulkner insisted during evidence to the inquest. “I didn’t hit him back. I am not a fighter, I don’t like punching people.”

But under cross examination by a solicitor representing the family of the dead man, he admitted he had convictions for violence in his past.

Detective Sg Irwin McLeese later revealed Mr Faulkner had been jailed in 1984 for seven years for rape, as well as 12 months for hijacking, 12 months for robbery, three months for assault and three months suspended for assaulting police.

He had convictions dating back to 1971 and in 1981 he was fined for three counts of assaulting police. His most recent conviction was in 1994 when he received a community service order after being found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, the officer said.

Several mothers who had been delivering their children to the school said they saw Mr Donnan approach Mr Faulkner as he sat in his car at the school gates.

Sharon Ritchie had just delivered her daughter to school when she saw Mr Donnan – whom she had known for 10 years, talking to the driver of a car.

“I thought they were just having a yarn, then the driver’s door was opened quickly and the driver jumped out. Clint took a swing at the man and hit him in the face. There was pushing and shoving,” she said.

Ms Ritchie said she jumped between the men and was hit on the hand. “There was a lot of scuffling going on and at one stage Clint fell to the ground. The man moved forward and I yelled ‘He is an old man leave him be.’

“Clint got up and it started again. Clint had the man by the front of the hair.”

She said after the fight stopped Mr Donnan was agitated but didn’t appear to have any serious injuries. Headmistress Eleanor Lee took Mr Faulkner into the school to clean the blood from his face wounds, she said.

Ms Ritchie said a short time later she was walking down the road from the school when Mr Faulkner stopped his car and asked who Mr Donnan was. “He said he was going to take him for assault.”

She said she went to Mr Donnan’s house to see how he was and to tell him Mr Faulkner wanted to take action against him.

“He told me he had a sore head and that his lip felt funny. He was going to take some tablets. She said.

She added that she did notice he had a swollen lip and a small cut on his forehead but was fine when she left him.

Dawn Stephenson watched the altercation from her car parked down the road. “They were really going at each other, but it didn’t seem to be big massive blows sending each other reeling. I didn’t actually see anyone actually landing punches, it was more a scuffle that a real fight.”

Classroom assistant Lorraine Bloom said she understood the confrontation had been because Mr Donnan was angry about his granddaughter being almost knocked down the day before outside the school.

“Mr Donnan’s face was red and his eyes bulged. It was Mr Donnan who started the fight,” she said.

Anita Coffey said she saw the men grappling with each other and three hours later saw Mr Faulkner outside another school at Ballyhalbert collecting a child. “He had been cleaned up but you could see marks on his face.”

The headmistress said that during the morning both men came to see her to apologise for the fight. “Mr Donnan left the school saying he was sorry for his behaviour. Mr Faulkner apologised and said: ‘I didn’t hit him. If I had hit him he would have been dead now’.”

Mr Donnan was seen several times during the morning at his home – a postman recalled talking to him when he delivered a parcel.

However Mr Donnan was found dead in the house when he failed to collect his granddaughter when school closed at 12.15 for the holidays.

A parent who was a distant relative and the school secretary found him lying in the hall. He was down on his knees with his hands under him and his face pushed against the skirting board.

A phone was under the body and an open telephone book with vomit on it was beside the body.

Efforts were made to revive him but he was declared dead when an ambulance crew arrived.

In his evidence Mr Faulkner rejected witness claims he had been in his car and flung open the door hitting Mr Donnan when they argued.

He said he had hurried back to the car after delivering his son to the school and found Mr Donnan standing beside the car blocking his door.

He said after he swore at Mr Donnan he was hit in the face and cut. “I put my hands up to protect myself, he swung another punch , missed and fell. I pulled him up quickly and he punched me again.”

He said he had been aware of women around and of someone saying: ‘Leave him alone. He is an old man’.

Mr Faulkner said: “I said: ‘I am only trying to defend myself'. I had him pinned to the fence to stop him punching me.”

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow when coroner Deborah Malcolm is due to deliver her findings on the death.

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