A MAN was jailed today for killing a Leeds postman with a single punch during a row at a taxi rank about a dropped can of Coke - 20 years earlier.
Anthony McDonnell, 45, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to manslaughter over the death of Andrew Batten in October 1995.
McDonnell evaded justice for two decades before finally handing himself in to police following a renewed police appeal for information on the 20th anniversary of Mr Batten’s death.
Leeds Crown Court heard Mr Batten, who lived in Beeston, was waiting at a taxi rank on Vicar Lane in Leeds city centre when he challenged McDonnell for dropping a can of Coca Cola as he stood with his girlfriend.
McDonnell struck Mr Batten a single blow to the face. He fell backwards and struck his head on the ground, causing a fractured skull. McDonnell then said ‘come on let’s run’ before fleeing the scene with his partner.
A witness gave chase but abandoned the pursuit after McDonnell stopped and adopted a “threatening stance.”
Mr Batten, who was wearing his Royal Mail uniform when he was attacked, never regained consciousness and a decision was taken to switch off his life support machine at hospital two days later.
Mr Batten’s parents have since died without ever knowing who their son’s killer was.
The court heard that his father passed away in 2014 and his dying words to his daughter were to ask her to continue to seek justice for Mr Batten.
Jailing McDonnell, judge Tom Bayliss, QC said: “You took a man’s life for no reason at all. Your actions result in his death - you killed him.
“His family have had to live with the cruel knowledge that his killer was walking free.”
Prosecutor Simon Waley read out a victim personal statement on behalf of Mr Batten’s sister, Vanessa, in which she described him as someone who was dedicated to charities and was respectful of others.
The statement said: “His loss continues to be keenly felt.
“I have been hoping and praying for the last 20 years that someone had a conscience enough to rid themselves of 20 years of silence and rid themselves of a false life.”
Ms Batten’s statement also expressed “disbelief” that her brother’s death could have been brought about over a can of Coca Cola.
Addressing McDonnell directly, the statement continued: “I hope you take this time to reflect on all the hurt and damage you have caused. Forgiveness will not be forthcoming too easily but I cannot hate someone I do not know.”
The court heard Mr Batten had been for a drink in Leeds city centre after finishing work and was waiting for a taxi with a takeaway meal when he was attacked.
Witnesses described how McDonnell, who had drunk about eight pints, had been arguing with his partner shortly before the attack.
McDonnell, a taxi driver with Armley Cars, remained at large despite widespread publicity after the killing, including a reconstruction.
He eventually handed himself in at Elland Road police station on November 4 last year.
The father-of-four, of Whitebridge Avenue, Leeds, told police in interview that he had struck Mr Batten after he made a comment about him dropping the can.
Mr Waley said: “He said that he heard a remark from Mr Batten to the effect that there were bins to put rubbish in.”
The court heard McDonnell had convictions for drink-related violence before the incident, including assaulting a police officer.
He also continued to offend after the killing, receiving convictions for battery, harassment, threatening behaviour and criminal damage.
Richard Reed, mitigating, said: “Anthony McDonnell never intended the consequence of that blow and he was in turmoil the following day when the publicity described it as a brutal murder.
“The relief that he feels at having admitted his actions is enormous.
“Had he come forward at the time and been dealt with under the older regime the punishment would have been a lot less.”
Mr Reed added: “The man before you now is mature, reflective and remorseful - a different man altogether.
“On more than one occasion he has approached the police station but not had the courage to go in.”
After the hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Jim Dunkerley, of West Yorkshire Police Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, said: “Andrew Batten’s family have been through the last twenty years not only grieving over the loss of a loved one in such sudden and tragic circumstances but with the additional pain of not knowing who was responsible.
His father died heartbroken that the family had had no resolution over Andrew’s death.
“We hope that knowing McDonnell has now been brought to justice as the person responsible will provide some closure and help them to move on.
“What this case so sadly illustrates is the appalling human consequences of completely unwarranted violence in the night-time economy. It should serve as a stark reminder to others of the impact that can have on people’s lives.
“We hope it will also demonstrate that we never give up on homicide investigations and, regardless of the passage of time, will always continue to do all we can to get justice for victims and their families.”