Biker jailed for manslaughter after killing care sector manager in St Patrick’s Day attack

An off-road biker who killed a care sector manager with a single punch has been jailed for nine years for manslaughter.

Warwick Crown Court was told James Rowley (pictured, right) attacked 41-year-old “peacemaker” Joe Higgins (pictured, left) in front of child witnesses, after being asked to stop nuisance riding.

Former warehouse worker Rowley, a father-of-two, left the scene of the killing, where he had been noisily “showing off” on grassland despite having no licence or insurance, and was arrested two days later.

Mr Higgins, who lived in Bedford but was originally from Coventry, died in hospital a day after suffering a head injury in the Radford area of the city on March 17.

Rowley, of Bowness Close, Radford, initially claimed to have acted in self-defence but pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to unlawful killing.

Judge Sylvia de Bertodano was told the 21-year-old, who also admitted dangerous driving, had previously been given a referral order as a teenager for an assault in which his victim lost consciousness.

Passing sentence on Monday, the judge said Rowley had given police a false account of what happened in the Jubilee Crescent area as Mr Higgins returned home from celebrating St Patrick’s Day with his cousin.

Judge de Bertodano told Rowley: “You were riding your motorbike in a way that was clearly dangerous and aggressive.

“You shouldn’t in fact have been driving it at all as you had no licence and no insurance.

“Having ridden it on the wrong side of the road and through a red light… you arrived at Jubilee Crescent.

“You started riding the bike on the grassed area there.

“The bike had no lights and the danger you were causing was obvious – so obvious that a bystander called the police.

“It was this behaviour that caused Joe Higgins to come over and speak to you.”

Addressing the attack itself, the judge added: “He tried to speak to you politely and tell you to stop.

“In the words of his brother, he was being a good citizen.

“You however refused to listen.

“You revved the engine and asked him if he ‘wanted to get battered’.

“You then got off the bike with the clear intention of inflicting violence on Joe Higgins.

“You were described by one witness as bouncing on your toes like a boxer.

“Joe Higgins had his hands down.

“One witness described it as the most vicious punch he had ever seen.

“The punch caused him to fall to the ground and hit his head, whereupon you rode off dangerously and at speed, taking, as you went, his hat.”

The judge, who ordered Rowley to serve a two-year driving ban after his release from prison, added: “On the facts of this case, the defendant was behaving in an aggressive manner well before he came across Joe Higgins.

“It (the punch) was sufficiently hard to bring a 17-stone man to the ground, a man who was acting as peacemaker, had his hands down and was unable to react to the blow.”

Prior to sentence, defence QC Kevin Hegarty, offering mitigation, said Mr Higgins had become concussed because he had hit his head on the ground.

Victim impact statements were also read to the court, including from the victim’s partner and his twin brother Chris Higgins.

In his statement, Mr Higgins described his brother, a stepfather to three children, as a “gentle giant” and true gentleman who was kind, caring and fun.

“At 41 he had his whole life ahead of him,” Mr Higgins said of his sibling.

“The happy future that Joe had planned has been cruelly taken away from him.”

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