Abatan Inquest Verdict

11 October 2010, 14:18 | Updated: 25 October 2010, 17:35

The family of a City high-flier who died after an unprovoked attack during a night out more than 11 years ago vowed to continue to fight for justice for him today as a coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

Tax specialist Jay Abatan, 42, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, was assaulted on January 24 1999 while waiting for a taxi outside the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton with his brother Michael.

The father of two, who worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, hit his head on the pavement and suffered a fractured skull which led to swelling and bleeding in his brain, and he died in hospital five days later.

Two men, Graham Curtis and Peter Bell, were arrested by Sussex Police within 24 hours of the attack but manslaughter charges were later dropped owing to a lack of evidence.

They were instead charged with affray and causing actual bodily harm to Michael Abatan but were acquitted.

Mr Curtis hanged himself at his Brighton home in June 2003 but Mr Bell gave evidence during the eight-day inquest at Brighton Magistrates' Court.

When asked if he had seen Mr Curtis hit or kick Mr Abatan he said ``no'', but declined to answer when he was asked if he had done so himself.

Summing up the evidence today, Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said the pathologists who conducted a post-mortem examination on Mr Abatan had found that he had received a punch to his left lower lip and one to his left lower eye, which although did not directly result in his death, were the reason he fell to the ground.

She said: ``I'm satisfied that Jay was punched twice in the face by an individual. The act of punching him was an unlawful and dangerous assault upon him.

``Any sober and reasonable person would realise that Jay was at risk of serious harm by that assault.

``The assault inadvertently resulted in his death.''

The coroner said that despite new evidence being heard in the inquest, it had still not been possible to determine who threw the punches or what exactly had happened in the moments leading up to them as witnesses either did not see or could not remember events.

But she added that the assault was ``entirely unprovoked and entirely unexplained''.

Describing Mr Abatan as a ``family man'' who was ``intelligent, articulate, well-spoken and well-spoken of'', she said that although he had drunk around seven bottles of lager that evening he was not intoxicated, although the alcohol could have rendered him less likely to protect himself from the blows and accelerated his fall.

Speaking after the verdict, Michael Abatan said the family had found it ``upsetting'' that so many of the witnesses at the inquest could not remember what had happened.

In a statement on behalf of the family, including Mr Abatan's partner Tanya Haynes, he said: ``Eleven years on we have learned that Jay was severely assaulted and left by many of those who saw to die on the roadside.

``As a family we know others out there do remember what happened to Jay and we will not stop until all the truth comes out.''

He added that the family remained angry that no-one had been brought to justice for his death and believed Sussex Police ``have a lot of questions to answer''.

The family, who believed the attack was racially motivated, complained at the time that the police investigation was not thorough enough, which prompted a critical review of the inquiry by Essex Police.

This led to the original team of detectives being replaced and a second review being carried out by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, in which several officers were questioned, found there had been failings.

The inquest heard from Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Cheesman, head of CID at Sussex Police, who was one of the senior officers involved in the reinvestigation of the case.

He said that their reinvestigation resulted in 2,500 actions for officers to take forward and that they interviewed 750 people.

Detective Superintendent Andy Griffiths of Sussex Police said officers would be reviewing evidence given during the inquest.

He said: ``The coroner was only able to reach her verdict after a thorough examination of how Jay died and Sussex Police assisted in this process by tracing witnesses who would have relevant information to give the inquest and by supplying documents from the police investigation.

``We share the frustration of Jay's family that no-one has been brought to justice for this crime and will be reviewing evidence given by witnesses during the inquest to see if it provides new lines of inquiry.

``If so, these will be investigated by a team from the force's Major Crime Branch.

``The inquest was a painful process for Jay's family and friends as they heard evidence of the evening that resulted in his death and my thoughts are with them today.''