A callous liar has been jailed for the manslaughter of his best friend – after watching an innocent man stand trial for the crime he committed.
Adrian Cooksey, 50, died when he struck his head on the ground after he was felled by a single punch following a drinking session in March 2009.
Life-long friend Richard Elmes, 51, gave evidence during the trial of a student originally accused of the manslaughter – but he was eventually cleared.
Elmes was then arrested after police taped his phone conversations and he was found guilty of the manslaughter following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.
He has now been jailed for three-and-a-half years with an additional 20 months for perjury.
After the verdict Mr Cooksey’s family said his killer should “have the key thrown away”.
His son Adam said: “Whatever sentence passed would never be enough to satisfy us.
“Richard Elmes has continued to lie and avoid the truth. This was supposed to be our dad’s friend.
“It has now been clarified that he punched our dad to the ground and left him lying there.
“How anyone can live with this and continue to lie to save their own skin deserves to have the key thrown away.”
Bristol Crown Court heard the pair – who struck up a close friendship when they were just six years old – had been out on a drinking session on March 7 2009.
Elmes lied to police and claimed he was not with Mr Cooksey when the assault happened in Spa Road, Melksham, Wilts., in the early hours of March 8.
Tom Minshull, a student who was on a night out in Bath at the time, was later arrested and charged with manslaughter even though he did not even witness the altercation.
Callous Elmes then gave evidence against Minshull at his trial at Bristol Crown Court but the student, who was 19 at the time, was cleared in November 2009.
Suspicions were raised over his evidence and gaps in CCTV footage suggested he could have been there when Mr Cooksey, a builder, recieved the fatal blow.
A fresh investigation was launched and Elmes admitted “telling porkies” to detectives and perjury in the previous case.
Bristol Crown Court was told how father-of-three Mr Cooksey had been discovered in a pool of blood by an off-duty PCSO at around 2.40am on March 8.
Ian Lawrie QC, opening the case to the jury, said a pathologist’s report showed how Mr Cooksey died from an overwhelming brain injury after a heavy blow to the face.
He described how Mr Cooksey and Elmes had been drinking with friend Andrew Fletcher before leaving to catch a taxi together.
Elmes, of Melksham, Wilts., initially told police he was “too drunk” to remember what had happened after that.
Mr Lawrie said: “It is the Crown’s case that the moment police spoke to Elmes following the discovery of the body that Elmes wasn’t being entirely honest and that he effectively told a number of lies.
“Those statements by Elmes had one significant impact on the police investigation being carried out.
“We will discover that there were two young students on Spa Road. One of them, Mr Minshull, was arrested and stood trial for manslaughter.
“A jury acquitted him. Elmes attended the trial as a witness and told lies under oath.”
Mr Lawrie said additional information came to light after the first trial through unguarded comments Elmes made to his wife in conversations recorded by police.
He added: “He accepts that he ‘told porkies’ and there are a number of mis-descriptions and lies within the statements and the court of law.”
“In those conversations he didn’t go so far as to admit assaulting Mr Cooksey but nevertheless in contrast to statements given to the police and subsequent appearances at this court, there are admissions that in fact he was in Spa Road.
“They [the recordings] confirm that he recalls much more, even in 2011, than he ever let on to the police in earlier statements.
“They confirm he was in Spa Road and they confirm he had a verbal altercation Mr Cooksey.
“The blow to Mr Cooksey caused the injury which caused him to fall and it’s that injury that is responsible for Mr Cooksey’s death.
“The issue in this case will be who delivered the blow.
“The Crown contends that the person responsible for delivering that blow is in fact Mr Elmes, a friend of Mr Cooksey’s, and it is obvious from his plea that he disputes that.”
A jury convicted Elmes of manslaughter in September following a two-week trial.
Speaking after the verdict Detective Chief Superintendent Kier Pritchard, head of protective services at Wiltshire Police, said: “We are pleased that the man responsible for Adrian Cooksey’s death has been brought to justice.
“It is deeply regrettable that Thomas Minshull was put through the trauma of the investigation and the court process on the previous occasion where the Jury found he was not responsible and he was acquitted.
“We appreciate that this was a very distressing experience for him and his family who have continued to assist us and shown dignity throughout.
“We would like to extend our sincere apologies to Thomas and his family.”
Speaking after Monday’s sentencing, Detective Inspector Ian Saunders said: “For three years Richard Elmes continually and deliberately lied about his involvement to police.
“He lied under oath at the trial of a young man he knew was not responsible for Adrian’s death.”