Wales: Moment 20-year-old man was killed with one punch in 2020
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A mum has called for harsher penalties for people who kill with a single punch.
Becky White lost her son Dean Skillin on September 19, 2020, after he was attacked by boxing fan Brandon Sillence while on a night out.
The 20-year-old had been out for drinks with his cousin, celebrating lockdown restrictions being lifted, when they were attacked by Sillence outside The Waverly Hotel in Bangor, Wales.
Becky, 43, told Wales Online: “I just feel like that when somebody dies, part of you dies.
“And you go into autopilot mode where you’re just somehow functioning but I don’t know how.
“And I just take each day as it comes and just do what I need to do.
“I work, sort the kids out, get them to school, it’s just day by day basically.”
Sillence was described in court as “aggressive and confrontational” and ready to punch his “own shadow”.
The force of Sillence’s punch caused Dean’s skull to rotate on his spine, leading to a catastrophic brain injury and killing him instantly.
For Becky, the pain has only got worse since that night she learned her son had died.
“There are days when I’m just getting on doing everything but it hits you with a massive blow at certain times, certain sounds, certain songs, at his birthday,” Becky said.
“His birthday is this month so I’ve been quite low knowing that his birthday is coming up.”
The first year after his death, they celebrated his birthday – which would have been his 21st – with fireworks.
But not this year. “It’s getting harder and harder and I don’t want to celebrate,” she continued.
“We are all the same – it’s another Christmas he’s not here, another birthday he’s not here. It’s just hard for everybody.”
Her son’s death was the result of senseless violence, a single “sucker punch” that could not be undone.
Sillence was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in December, 2021 for the manslaughter of Dean.
Caernarfon Crown Court heard that 25-year-old Sillence used his fists to deliver the fatal blow which resulted in Dean “being brain dead before he hit the ground”.
A jury found Sillence not guilty of murder, but he had already admitted to manslaughter, and committing assault causing ABH on Dean’s cousin, Taylor Lock.
The sentence will never be enough for Becky: “I didn’t go to the last hearing. I couldn’t bear it,” she said.
“I sat outside. When the jury found him not guilty I was just so hurt for my son.
“I knew he [Sillence] would be getting single figures for my son’s life. I would’ve liked 20 years – a year for each year of his life.”
Becky maintains that Sillence knew exactly what he was doing when he launched his attack and that he fully intended to cause harm: “The jury weren’t swayed by the evidence,” she said.
“They couldn’t come to the conclusion that he’d tried to harm him. We know it wasn’t murder but I believe he was trying to harm him.”
It was why she decided to release CCTV footage of the killer punch: “We wanted to show that it’s what’s called a sucker punch, where you hit the person while they’re unaware that they’re going to get the blow.
“Dean was totally unprepared for it coming. What we were trying to show was that his fist was used as a weapon.”
She said she also wanted those who supported Sillence and his account of that evening to see the footage.
Writing at the time, she said: “I wanted to put it out there that when my son was killed there was no fight or words exchanged between Dean and Brandon.
“You can clearly see by the video that the police have released that Brandon ‘Coward’ Sillence punched my son from behind.”
She believed Sillence’s boxing background would have meant he knew he was going to harm Dean: “He wasn’t your average man,” Becky added.
The court heard that the September night when the attack took place was a warm one, a brief period between lockdown restrictions when people could socialise again with table service before a firebreak lockdown was brought back in.
Police had already been called to Bangor city centre and were milling in a crowd of around 30 people looking for Covid breaches and any other trouble.
According to the Judge, His Honour Judge Geraint Walters, Sillence had already impeded police and pretended to gag at an officer.
“You were playing at being ‘The big I am’ (But) 30 seconds later you extinguished the life of a young man and injured another,” he told Sillence as he sentenced him.
“You assaulted these two men effectively while surrounded by a number of police officers, not caring at all.”
Despite the fact Sillence was given the maximum sentence for the lower manslaughter category, Becky launched a petition afterwards to demand the law be changed to increase sentences for one punch assaults that kill, to equal those for murder.
It was signed by more than 24,000 people.
“It’s not fair – when you kill someone and you purposefully use your fists to hurt somebody then how can you not get life or 15 years at least,” Becky added. “I don’t understand.”
The day before his death, Dean had been at work at McDonald’s, a job he had taken while he decided what he wanted to do next in his life.
He had always dreamed of being in the Army, but after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, that was not possible.
“He was so kind, gentle, he was no trouble at all,” said his mother, who works as a carer.
“He never had fights, he wasn’t aggressive – only when he lost on the Xbox. He didn’t even raise his voice.”
Becky has a daughter, 18, and two sons aged 15 and six.
But Dean will always hold a special place: “He was my first child and he made me a mother,” she said sadly. “Dean helped me loads with the little ones so much.”
Becky did not want to watch the CCTV footage that showed her son’s final moments but she wanted to show the “devastating impact” that one punch could have.
“He was looking for someone to harm that night,” said Becky about Sillence.
“That’s what he did, to punch someone with full force. I tried not to watch the CCTV but I had to.
“I worked with a man who was a marine and he said to me, ‘I knew your son was dead before he hit the ground because of the way he fell’.
“I asked how he knew that and he said ‘because when you’re a sniper and you shoot somebody, they just go down like a sack of potatoes’.
“He said he didn’t put his hands out to break his fall.
“I just hope that if it makes people think twice about hitting somebody and the devastating consequences that it can bring. It takes more strength to avoid a situation, I think.”
Despite her grief and pain at losing her firstborn, Becky still considers the Sillence family.
She said there was no way she would ever be able to forgive what happened and she had to work hard to keep things together, she admitted.
But she said: “I know there’s a family who has to live with what their child has done and that’s quite sickening as well.”
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