Life can change in the blink of an eye. This Channel 4 documentary about horrifying assaults makes this clear from the start. Straight away it was immediately gripping, in the style of mega-hit Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. We instantly sympathise with this baby-faced boy called Ben, talking to the camera about going to a party and snogging a girl. It’s a teenage romance. Then a drunken fight breaks out and it all turns sour. Ben describes the fight and how he was involved albeit unwillingly, defending the honour of his friend. “I’m not a violent person,” says Ben. We nod. Look at his face. How could we believe anything else? Then another face appears, another young man who was there at the party, and says no, that’s not what happened. Ben hit George with such force that he died. CCTV backs this up. Our view flips 180 degrees. What an ingenious way to start.
Then we are introduced to the friendly happy-go-lucky victim. George’s severe brain damage wasn’t noticed at the time, and he died the day afterwards in hospital aged just 17. And as anyone who watches detective stuff on tv, real or fictional, knows that eye witnesses are always always wrong. Never mind two sides, there’s usually seven sides to the story. Who do we believe?
I didn’t realise this was three stories over the space of an hour so I was surprised that story one went at such a pace. I just had time to wonder if Ben was wearing a grey sweatshirt because that’s his uniform. And suddenly the black backdrop is whipped away to reveal prison walls. He was sentenced to five years for George’s manslaughter. He doesn’t seem to think that the boy’s death was his fault, that he caused the deadly fall with the punch. And because of this he doesn’t outwardly show remorse. As George’s Mum reflects, maybe that’s Ben’s way of coping with the tragedy that’s changed his life forever.
The second story is so worrying, especially for a gobby type like me. Stupid arguments escalate so quickly, especially if you meet the wrong guy in the wrong mood in the supermarket car park. You may do the right thing, and walk away, despite him yelling at you but what if he follows you? And punches you. Brian died because of a stupid argument about a parking space. His wife Christine and his step daughter have to take the decision to turn off his life support machine. She promises him she will take care of her Mum and his allotment. It’s too much.
In this case we have the tapes from the police interview. Alan thinks he’s doing the right thing, by arguing his point even after he learns the man he punched has died. But this aggression, this desire to always be right, shows his character and intention just as clearly as the damning CCTV from the car park. Brian died. Alan went to prison. No one comes out of this unchanged.
While these situations are all awful, they left the most tragic for last. A drunken argument in the street at kicking out time (kicking out time for the youth anyway – I’m back home and in bed for hours by 4am). A silly overheard comment that someone takes offence to, and all their friends are suddenly dragged into the fight. Ben realises he’s in trouble. He’s learnt how to box but he knows he doesn’t want to fight. But Dave moves in front of him, in a boxing stance, and Ben throws the punch. There’s only one way this can end.
The interviews with the parents of the two young men involved are heartbreaking. The dads have so much in common – single men bringing up boys, working out the balance between nurturing love and teaching them to stick up for themselves. Being Mum and Dad to them. Distressingly if the lads had met earlier in the night I think they could well have been friends.
After the anger and resentment of the previous two stories there is such unexpected maturity on both sides here. The perpetrator Ben is immediately terrified and instead of running away he stops his taxi to go to the police and confess. Dave’s placid-seeming father says he has no animosity and Dave’s wife Nicky is a genuine inspiration. She married her soldier husband and they had a child. She was looking forward to a long life together when she was robbed of his presence.
She holds nothing back when she tells us how it felt to say goodbye to her husband and turn his life support off. After seeing my husband in a hospital bed last week this is the part that makes me fall to pieces. How can someone be in the care of a hospital and not be ok? How do you deal with the news that there’s nothing more to be done? How do you tell your daughter that Daddy will never come home? At the inquest, where Ben is acquitted, Nicky asks to meet him so she can forgive him. She hugs the terrified, miserable man who punched and killed her husband. She says she forgives him because it could so easily have been the other way around. It’s a moment of incredible grace and peace. It’s not something I could do.
We watch Ben as he leaves for Australia, both him and his Dad in floods of tears. He needs some time away to adjust and try to come to terms with what’s happened. I guess his Dad is worried that he will never come home and he will never be the same again.
One Killer Punch need to be shown in schools and colleges. It should be on a loop in pubs and nightclubs, wherever young men congregate. Women may say they want men who will fight for them, but everyone needs to think hard about that. No one should mean it literally. It really does take the bigger person to take a breath and walk away.
There’s a month left to watch this programme on All 4. It’s not a comfortable watch, but it’s essential television and brilliant story telling. Watch it!