Punch first, ask questions later

Last updated 19:16 03/01/2014
Daniel Christie
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FIGHTING FOR HIS LIFE: Daniel Christie.

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Matthew Stanley never saw it coming. The 15-year-old was punched once to the head and went down, smashing his skull on the ground.

As he lay there, unconscious, his attacker kicked him in the abdomen and another man poured beer over him and called him a coward.

A day later he was declared dead, another victim of the one-punch culture of street violence.

His sudden and violent death in 2006 was echoed by the king hit on 18-year-old Daniel Christie in Kings Cross on New Year's Eve, which fractured his skull and left him in a critical condition.

One-punch assaults have killed more than 90 people in Australia since 2000. Alcohol was a factor in almost three-quarters of such deaths recorded between 2000 and 2012.

Paul Stanley, Matthew's father, said he believed the level of such violence was rising.

"When I was growing up, most time you would be like two dancing roosters throwing punches that didn't connect," he said. "Now people are punching first and asking questions later."

King hits – a hard punch to the head that is completely unexpected by the victim – were widely considered the acts of cowards, he says.

Now they have become symbolic of a culture of severe, and often unprovoked, street violence.

St Vincent's Hospital emergency director Gordian Fulde said the number of victims presenting with serious injuries on Friday and Saturday nights has grown.

"The amount of injuries from scuffles has markedly decreased," he said. "Instead, we are seeing an increase of people who have been really whacked and when they are down they get kicked and stomped on."

There is no data on the number of non-fatal one-punch attacks. But Paul Mazerolle, director of the violence research and prevention program at Griffith University, said reports of such assaults were rising.

"I think we are starting to see the emergence of 'over-assaults', which are not just about getting somebody down but really going over the top at assaulting them," he says.

"There is no question we are hearing more and more about this, and starting to see the real impact of king hits."

Driving such assaults is the increased consumption and availability of alcohol, Professor Mazerolle said. He also cites the influence of peer groups and a growing desensitisation towards violence, as seen commonly in film and on television.

The term "king hit" is thought to stem from early 17th century England, when King James I struck a judge for suggesting he was subject to the law, knocking him to the floor.

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Paul Stanley dislikes the use of the term today, referring instead to one-punch assaults.

"A king is supposed to be someone of high honour and I think this is a coward's punch," he said.

"The boys with Matthew reckoned he probably didn't see the punch coming."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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