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Dad ‘killed’ by teen son after smashing his head during ‘game of slaps

THE finance boss at one of Britain’s poshest schools died when a “game of slaps” with his teenage son went wrong, a coroner heard. 

Wellington College bursar Malcolm Callender, 48, was larking around with son Ewan, 19, when he hit the lad with a “stinging slap”.

Army veteran Mr Callender then stood with his hands behind his back and said “right, you can have your free shot”.

Witnesses saw Ewan clench his fists before delivering the slap, which sent Mr Callender senior flying backwards before he hit his head on the road.

As bystanders rushed to help, Ewan was heard screaming: “Wake up Dad! Dad I love you!”

The son was arrested at the scene and left waiting for 18 months before the CPS decided not to prosecute him.

An inquest in Reading today heard Ewan had been reluctant to slap his bigger-built father, but “wanted to make his dad proud”.

The inquest heard the pair had been watching Malcolm’s team, Newcastle, at Yates and O’Neill bars, on April 12 last year when they started “horseplay” in Reading town centre.

CCTV footage in the bar showed Mr Callender senior raise his hand and strike his son, who went to retaliate but instead embraced his father, the inquest heard.

Giving evidence at the inquest Ewan said: “Dad slapped me around the face on the way out just because we were messing around. It is just normal. There was nothing aggressive about it.


“It was when we were outside near the front door. Me and Luke were gonna stay out, dad was going to go home with his friends.

“We started walking towards the station, we must have been in mid-conversation. Dad said, ‘right, you can have your free shot’.

“I knew exactly what he meant, I get to slap him now. Luke was like, ‘come on, you do not want to do that because you know you are going to lose’.”

Mr Callender junior added: “I never win.”

Malcolm’s wife – Ewan’s mum – told the inquest in a statement that the slapping between dad and son was a common game they played.

Catherine Morrison-Callender, also ex-Army, said: “As a family, we would always be messing about with each other and we would be giving each other quick little digs in the ribs which we called ‘fingers of steel’.

“We would wrestle with each other where we would try to grab the other person and take them to the ground. Another game we would play was slaps.

“When Ewan was about 15 years old, he and Malcolm would progress to try to slap each other around the face. Malcolm would always be winding him up, saying, ‘you reckon you can take me yet?’

“Normally people have three goes each and a judge works out who wins.

“It is a bit of an Army thing and Ewan and Malcolm had that sort of relationship. He always had a strong relationship with his dad.”

Mr Keys had witnessed Mr Callender senior challenging his son to slap him and stating “he’s got to do it”, the inquest heard.

“I could see in Ewan’s face that he really did not want to do it,” Mr Key said, “although I got the impression that he had something to prove to his dad.

“Ewan looked up to his dad as he was a higher-up figure in the Army and he wanted to make his dad proud.”

Mr Callender senior was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital where he was treated for an acute subdural haemorrhage but he died in the early hours of the following morning.

The cause of death was given as “blunt force trauma to the head”.

A toxicology examination found Mr Callender senior was over twice the drink-drive limit for alcohol but had no other substances in his body.

Ian Wade QC, assistant coroner for Berkshire, said the slap should be seen as legal “horseplay”.

Mr Wade said he would not reach a conclusion that Mr Callender had died from unlawful killing.

He said: “The law recognises that consent is a legitimate concept in the law of assault and the application of force that is consented to, is not assault.

“You are allowed to consent to the application of force in sport, after all if it were not so then every contact sport and every martial art would be against the law.

“You are also allowed to consent to the application of force in what is a rather Victorian way called horseplay. It seems to me that what took place here fulfils the definition of horseplay.”

Concluding the inquest with a narrative verdict Mr Wade said Mr Callender died after “engaging in non-aggressive, not hostile, consensual horseplay”.


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