UK legal expert: Manslaughter case in Adam Johnson’s on-ice death ‘really difficult to prosecute’
The hockey world is still reeling over the loss of Hibbing hockey player Adam Johnson who died in a shocking tragedy on the ice last month in England when another player’s skate cut his neck during a game.
More than two weeks after the grisly on-ice collision, South Yorkshire police announced a man had been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. Official charges have not yet been filed, but U.K. police stated Wednesday the suspect had been released on bail. The name of that suspect has yet to be released by officials.
As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Johnson, who went on to play hockey for the University of Minnesota – Duluth, died on Oct. 28 after a severe neck injury during a game in England’s pro league. At that time, the Nottingham Panthers said Johnson died “following a freak accident” at a game in Sheffield. Video showed Johnson collide with an opponent mid-ice, and after standing up, he was helped off the ice by a teammate while trying to skate toward his bench.
“When you look at how manslaughter is defined in the U.K., and what you need to do to prove it, it’s really difficult given the circumstances to really put that on the other person and say that they had an intent,” Richie Billing, a personal injury attorney and legal expert in the U.K. explained.
Billing went on to explain the criminal justice system is different than how we operate here in the states. He says investigators and prosecuting attorneys don’t always work hand-in-hand in the U.K. Instead, he says police usually work on their own until they present their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service, which is also known as CPS in the U.K.
“They’ll arrest somebody, and they have 24 hours to keep them in custody, to question them and conduct any relevant searches,” Billing explained. “It’s very difficult to present a clear case to the CPS that is always going to be watertight. Sometimes the police just have to take a chance on arresting someone, bringing them into custody, seeing what the interview throws up and present all of their findings to the CPS who might turn around and say, ‘No, we’re not going to take it any further.'”
Billing says there’s no deadline for when official documents could be filed in this tragic incident, but added, because the suspect has already been released on bail, charges likely won’t come.
“If he’s been released on bail already it’s a pretty god indication that they don’t have enough evidence at this moment to go to the CPS with a charge and the CPS may have given advice to the police to say, ‘Listen, this isn’t a strong enough case you need to go away and find more,'” Billing said.
Billing says there are three different types of manslaughter in the U.K., and says he has a hard time finding a statute that fits the alleged crime in Johnson’s death.
“From what I understand, the two players simply fell over. Whether that’s enough to classify as gross negligence is another matter but I can’t really see that being the case,” he said.
Billing says what happened to Johnson has sent chills across the country. Regardless of what happens in this case, though, Billing says what is top of mind for him and many others in the U.K. is making sure what happened to Johnson never happens again.
“Once is enough and steps need to be taken,” he said.
South Yorkshire police say updates will be given in the coming days and weeks on the investigation.