Bar 'ruined' by punter's death

22:30, Oct 15 2012

The co-owner of the former Shapeshifters bar in Blenheim said there were "no winners, only losers" from his time with the Blenheim nightspot.

However, Julian Campbell said the financial loss he suffered when he sold the business paled in comparison to the loss felt by the family of Matt Heagney, who died after being dropped on his head by bouncers in August 2009.

Mr Campbell owned the bar with Kevin King, who last week pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Heagney, 24.

King, 52, pleaded guilty after a new indictment was put before a jury in a re-trial in the High Court at Wellington.

King was originally charged with assaulting Mr Heagney leading to his death, but that charge was changed to say that King had acted legally in removing Mr Heagney from the bar but did not use reasonable care when releasing him, leading to his death.

It had been argued that King had put Mr Heagney in a headlock, which left him semi-conscious and unable to protect himself when he fell.


The bar's reputation had been ruined by what had happened, Mr Campbell, who lives in Blenheim, said. Staff were verbally abused for working there, as were people who queued to get in.

Mr Campbell said he struggled with a feeling of responsibility.

"What could I have done to change what happened that night? I have tried to think about that but there's nothing I could have done."

He hoped for a reconciliation with the Heagney family now King had pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

"I would love to be able to meet them, look them in the eye and tell them how sorry I am for what happened. That would be my desire but I completely understand that's their call."

Mr Campbell first invested in the business as a silent partner before King got involved, he said.

Mr Campbell's original partner wanted out and introduced him to King, he said.

"I didn't even get the guy involved in the business," he said. "I was given Kevin King as my business partner. One thing I would change, I should have held a controlling share in the business but he was a 50 per cent shareholder. If I had 51 per cent I could have controlled what was happening better."

Mr Campbell eventually bought out King and attempted to save the business but quickly realised how strong the Heagney family felt about the bar, he said.

"I thought I could run the business under new management and put my own stamp on things but I was told by a friend of the Heagney family, so I could get a perspective of their grief, that they had a wish list. Top of that list was that their son wasn't dead. Second was that the building would be bulldozed and third was for the business to be closed down.

"When I was given the list I realised this was bigger and more powerful than I had anticipated. I thought I could deal with this but I had to go as well."

Mr Campbell sold the business in November 2010.

He got just enough money to pay off his bank debts, he said.

"I lost a lot of money but they lost their son. Mentioning money [at the time] seemed like a dumb comment," he said. "Two years out of the business and it still conjures up memories. I had difficulty even going into the building."

Some people had told Mr Campbell's children that they thought he was partly to blame, he said.

"They said that I was still Kevin King's business partner and I was involved in that business."

The Marlborough Express