Family of Anthony Harley killed by one punch in Blackpool say his death was like bomb dropped in their lives

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A “gentle” man who tried to be a Good Samaritan ended up branded a killer.

Harry Fowle went to the aid of two women being harassed by a drunk and went too far, Preston Crown Court was told.

The 34-year-old, said to have mild learning difficulties, is now starting a prison sentence for manslaughter after his well-meaning intervention led to the death of a 53-year-old man in a Blackpool street.

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Fowle delivered a single punch which caused Anthony Harley to fall backwards and hit his head on the road. He never regained consciousness and died in hospital almost a month later.

Judge Robert Altham jailed Fowle for 22 months despite pleas from his defence barrister to make a rare decision and suspend the sentence due to the unusual circumstances of the case.

Harry Fowle has been convicted of manslaughter after throwing a single punching a killing a man he believed was harrassing two womenHarry Fowle has been convicted of manslaughter after throwing a single punching a killing a man he believed was harrassing two women
Harry Fowle has been convicted of manslaughter after throwing a single punching a killing a man he believed was harrassing two women | Lancs Police

The Honorary Recorder of Preston said he had considered freeing him, saying he was not a danger to the public. But he added: “Where a death is caused by a blow like this the proper punishment can only be served by a sentence in custody.”

Fowle, of Brook Street, Blackpool was constantly wiping tears from his eyes throughout the hearing.

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The court was told two women were sitting in a red Ford KA in an empty parking bay meant for taxis in Church Street, Blackpool at around 8:36pm on a February night last year.

CCTV footage played in court showed a “heavily intoxicated” Mr Harley approach the car and start remonstrating with the driver Olivia Walker. Ms Walker also filmed the altercation on her mobile phone from inside the car showing Mr Harley shouting abuse at the women, putting his hand on the driver’s window as if to block the camera and then bouncing into the car door.

With members of his family watching the film from the public gallery, Mr Harley is heard to tell the women to “f*** off,” to which one of the women replies: “You f*** off.” The woman then says: “You go away, stop harassing us. Who are you?”

At that point three men are seen on camera to come around the corner, one of them Fowle carrying a bottle of water and heading for his local gym.

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They walk past the car, turn around to listen to the confrontation and then walk back towards the vehicle.

Anthony Harley, 53, was assaulted in Church StreetAnthony Harley, 53, was assaulted in Church Street
Anthony Harley, 53, was assaulted in Church Street | Lancashire Police

Fowle is then seen to walk around the car to confront Mr Harley on the driver’s side. Mr Harley is immediately seen walking away, but then turns to face Fowle. Fowle throws a “shadow punch” in Mr Harley’s direction and Mr Harley then starts dancing backwards like a boxer. When the pair are around 10 yards away from the car Fowle throws a single right hook which strikes Mr Harley in the face and knocks him to the ground.

His head is seen to strike the road rendering him immediately unconscious. Fowle and others, including one of the women from the car, gather round to check on him before Fowle walks away from the area as emergency services are summoned.

Francis McEntee, prosecuting, said Fowle handed himself in the following day when he saw in the media that Mr Harley was critically ill.

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He had initially said he punched Mr Harley in self-defence, but then admitted that was not the case and pleaded guilty in court to manslaughter.

He said he had been concerned about the safety of the females in the car and had only approached Mr Harley because of those concerns.

Harry Fowle (left) went to the aid of two women being harassed by a drunk and went too far, Preston Crown Court was told. He punched Anthony Harley (right) and he fell and banged his head. He died a month later in hospitalHarry Fowle (left) went to the aid of two women being harassed by a drunk and went too far, Preston Crown Court was told. He punched Anthony Harley (right) and he fell and banged his head. He died a month later in hospital
Harry Fowle (left) went to the aid of two women being harassed by a drunk and went too far, Preston Crown Court was told. He punched Anthony Harley (right) and he fell and banged his head. He died a month later in hospital | Blackpool Gazette

Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour, who carried out a post mortem on Mr Harley, said the cause of death was “blunt force trauma.” She added that a “medium amount of force had been used.”

When interviewed by police Fowle told them: “He (Mr Harley) was dancing about like a boxer.” He said he thought he was going to be hit.

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A victim impact statement to the court, Mr Harley’s father Paul said the loss of Anthony at the age of 53, coming so soon after the death of his mother, had left the whole family grief-stricken. They were “devastated” and it was “like a bomb dropped in their lives”.

Fowle’s defence lawyer told the court: “This is a difficult case with clearly serious consequences for all involved.

Mr Smith said his client had mental health problems and called on the judge to show leniency adding: “Nothing that we submit is intended in any way to denigrate the loss to Mr Harley’s family.

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“We acknowledge that a custodial sentence must be passed, but we say the court could consider suspending that sentence. We accept that would be a rare occurrence.

“There is no suggestion he went out that night looking to engage in violence and this is not one of those cases where the actions of the defendant were caused by drink. He doesn’t drink, he had a bottle of water in his hands and he was on the way to the gym.”

Mr Smith said Fowle was genuinely remorseful and had a previous good character. References read by the judge showed he had “a kind and helpful nature.”

Judge Altham told Fowle that no sentence he could pass would ever equate to the loss Mr Harley’s family were feeling.

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He said that he had not been acting in self-defence as he had initially claimed and his actions were “excessive.”

Judge Altham said there was no doubt that the initial confrontation came about because the defendant was “justifiably concerned about the safety of the women.”

“The defendant believed it was necessary to get Mr Harley away from the vehicle – but it is very difficult to justify a punch to the face.

“This was a significant forceful blow from a bigger, younger man to a smaller older man.

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Those who know him are astonished to learn about his involvement.

Judge Altham

“From references I have read he (Fowle) is a gentle man in normal circumstances. I can see (pointing to the dock) that he is extremely upset. I’m sure that’s not put on and I accept he is extremely sorry. But I am just troubled about suspending the sentence.

“He does have difficulties reading situations. At the moment of delivering the punch, yes, I accept he felt initially he needed to intervene. But a punch to the face to a man backing off, I find it difficult to accept that.

“Those who have sent me references speak of a gentle personable man who goes out of his way to help people. Those who know him are astonished to learn about his involvement.

“He was initially acting appropriately, he felt it was necessary to get involved. But at the time of the blow Mr Harley was clearly backing off. He may have felt that some force was needed to usher him away. He accepts that he need not have punched Mr Harley and certainly not with that force and to the head.

“I have taken into account his difficulty in interpreting situations, but that punch was completely unnecessary.”