'Jungle justice' in Bridge St bar brawl

Last updated 13:00 14/01/2014

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A 50-year-old man who was twice knocked unconscious in a Nelson bar has himself been convicted of assault.

Garry Wayne Cooper, of Nelson, was dealt a hand of "jungle justice" in a Bridge St club on December 15, after he inadvertently king-hit an "innocent man", the Nelson District Court court heard yesterday.

Cooper had been drinking and playing pool at the Shark Club poolhouse, an establishment he frequented as a younger man.

On his way to the bar's toilet he was punched in the back of the head and briefly knocked out, prosecutor Ruth Thomas said.

After recovering he sought help from the bar's manager, with whom he reviewed that night's CCTV security footage.

Thinking he had identified the person who hit him, Cooper walked up to an unknown, larger man in the bar, tapped him on the shoulder, then, without hesitation, punched him in the face, Mrs Thomas said.

It turned out to be the wrong person, who happened to be wearing similar clothes to the person identified on the CCTV footage.

Six or so "large" associates of the "innocent man" immediately rushed to his support and began to give Cooper a "hell of a hiding", defence lawyer Mark Dollimore said.

Mr Dollimore said the beating escalated to a point where bar security staff declined to intervene, and Cooper's wife was left to try to rescue her husband.

He said the bar's manager had since phoned and apologised to Cooper about her security staff's reluctance to step in and help him.

Mr Dollimore said the person who initially hit Cooper had since been identified and charged.

He said his client was a mature man who did not go out much these days. The Shark Club and Bridge St in general had been a safer place in Cooper's day, Mr Dollimore said. "Things have changed."

He said Cooper was "wound up" after being hit, and "wished he had kept his cool".

"He won't be going back to that part of town."

Judge Tony Zohrab said he was sympathetic to Cooper's situation, but that sympathy waned as he had acted "entirely inappropriately by trying to take the law into [his] own hands".

He convicted Cooper and fined him $250 plus court costs of $130, saying that penalty took into account the "jungle justice" he had already suffered.

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