Father died when a ‘game of slaps’ with his teenage son went tragically wrong, inquest hears 

An Army veteran bursar at Wellington College died after urging his teenage son to hit him in a ‘game of slaps’ which went wrong, an inquest has heard.

Ewan Callender, 19, and Malcolm, 48, had been watching football last April and took part in the game until the father reeled backwards and struck his head on the road.

The inquest in Reading, Berkshire, heard Ewan did not want to slap his bigger-built father, who served in the military for 27 years, but ‘wanted to make his dad proud’.

Mr Callender, who became bursar at the prestigious Wellington College after leaving the Army, had struck Ewan with a stinging slap.

The father, from Crowthorne, Berkshire, then stood with his hands behind his back and said ‘right, you can have your free shot’.

Witnesses said they saw Ewan clench his fists before he delivered the slap, which sent Mr Callender’s head backwards, hitting the road in Reading, the inquest heard.

As his father lay on the ground, Ewan was heard screaming ‘wake up Dad! Dad I love you!’

The hearing was told how more than 18 months after Ewan was arrested by police at the scene, the Crown Prosecution Service decided they would not prosecute him.

Ian Wade QC, assistant coroner for Berkshire, explained during the inquest into Mr Callender’s death today that the slap should be seen as legal ‘horseplay.’

An inquest in Reading was told Ewan Callender, 19, did not want to slap his bigger-built father Malcolm, who had 27 years experience in the British Army but 'wanted to make his dad proud' and did it anyway

An inquest in Reading was told Ewan Callender, 19, did not want to slap his bigger-built father Malcolm, who had 27 years experience in the British Army but 'wanted to make his dad proud' and did it anyway

An inquest in Reading was told Ewan Callender, 19, did not want to slap his bigger-built father Malcolm, who had 27 years experience in the British Army but ‘wanted to make his dad proud’ and did it anyway

Malcolm Callender pictured with wife Catherine Morrison-Callender who is also an army veteran

Malcolm Callender pictured with wife Catherine Morrison-Callender who is also an army veteran

Malcolm Callender pictured with wife Catherine Morrison-Callender who is also an army veteran

Ewan Callender (pictured in uniform with his mother Katie Morrison-Callender) was said to have clenched his fists on Friar Street in Reading before he delivered the slap

Ewan Callender (pictured in uniform with his mother Katie Morrison-Callender) was said to have clenched his fists on Friar Street in Reading before he delivered the slap

Ewan Callender (pictured in uniform with his mother Katie Morrison-Callender) was said to have clenched his fists on Friar Street in Reading before he delivered the slap

The inquest heard how Ewan, who was also in the Army for around three years, had been out with his father and their friends on April 12 last year to watch Newcastle – his father’s team – play football.

The son, who had answered police questions in an interview, wiped away tears as he entered the witness box and answered the coroner’s questions about the night of drinking at the Yates and O’Neill’s bars in Reading.

Mr Wade warned the teenager he did not need to answer any questions where he felt the answer might incriminate him, but added he was free to reply if he wished.

CCTV from the bar, which the coroner had seen, showed Malcolm strike his son, who went to retaliate but instead embraced his father, the inquest heard.

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 [Key, a friend who had travelled from Birmingham] 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. He [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”.’

The inquest heard how Ewan (pictured with his father), who was also in the Army for around three years, had been out with his father and their friends on April 12 last year to watch Newcastle - his father's team - play football

The inquest heard how Ewan (pictured with his father), who was also in the Army for around three years, had been out with his father and their friends on April 12 last year to watch Newcastle - his father's team - play football

The inquest heard how Ewan (pictured with his father), who was also in the Army for around three years, had been out with his father and their friends on April 12 last year to watch Newcastle – his father’s team – play football

The coroner asked: ‘He was just persuading you that this was not a game that you were likely to win?’

Ewan replied: ‘I never win.’

His mother, Malcolm’s wife, had told the inquest in her statement the slapping between father and son was a common game they played.

Catherine Morrison-Callender, also an Army veteran, 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.’

She said: ‘Malcolm would always be winding him up, saying, ”you reckon you can take me yet?”

‘Malcolm was very competitive so he would never let Ewan win, he would use it as a reminder that Ewan was not quite big enough yet.

‘After Malcolm passed away I spoke to Ewan about what happened. From what he described, it sounded just like the games that they had been playing together since Ewan was a kid.’

Mr Key, who had travelled from Birmingham to see Ewan, told the inquest how he had seen Malcolm slap his son and said they were both happy and laughing.

Mr Key said: ‘Ewan and I are aware of a game which I call slaps. There are videos of it all over Facebook. 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 seen Malcolm challenging his son to slap him and stating ‘he’s got to do it’, the inquest heard.

Mr Key continued: ‘I could see in Ewan’s face that he really did not want to do it. 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.’

After clenching and unclenching his fists, Ewan struck his father an open-handed slap with his right hand and Malcolm fell to the floor outside the Matchbox bar, the coroner heard.

After clenching and unclenching his fists, Ewan struck his father (pictured during his time in the Army) an open-handed slap with his right hand and Malcolm fell to the floor outside the Matchbox bar, the coroner heard

After clenching and unclenching his fists, Ewan struck his father (pictured during his time in the Army) an open-handed slap with his right hand and Malcolm fell to the floor outside the Matchbox bar, the coroner heard

After clenching and unclenching his fists, Ewan struck his father (pictured during his time in the Army) an open-handed slap with his right hand and Malcolm fell to the floor outside the Matchbox bar, the coroner heard

As nearby security staff and other bystanders at the scene rushed to try to assist Malcolm, Ewan was heard screaming ‘wake up Dad! Dad I love you!’, before police arrested him, Mr Key told the inquest.

Malcolm 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 and a cause of death was given as ‘blunt force trauma to the head’.

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

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 Malcolm died after ‘engaging in non-aggressive, not hostile, consensual horesplay’.

Malcolm, who lived in Gardens Cottage in the grounds of Wellington College (pictured) in Crowthorne, had been born in Tyne and Wear, Newcastle and left school at 15 to join the Army

Malcolm, who lived in Gardens Cottage in the grounds of Wellington College (pictured) in Crowthorne, had been born in Tyne and Wear, Newcastle and left school at 15 to join the Army

Malcolm, who lived in Gardens Cottage in the grounds of Wellington College (pictured) in Crowthorne, had been born in Tyne and Wear, Newcastle and left school at 15 to join the Army

Malcolm, who lived in Gardens Cottage in the grounds of Wellington College in Crowthorne, had been born in Tyne and Wear, Newcastle and left school at 15 to join the Army.

Mrs Morrison-Callender told Mr Wade: ‘He always wanted to be a soldier, he would be playing with toy soldiers out in the garden.

‘He joined the Royal Engineers and throughout the 1990s he went on a number of tours in Bosnia and he was gradually moving up the ranks.’

Mrs Morrison-Callender had met Malcolm in 2000 when they were both posted at the same regiment of the 22nd Engineers, where she was a Lance Corporal and he was a Staff Sergeant.

After living in Germany as a couple and completing various postings, Mr Callender had been promoted to Captain and then Quartermaster.

She told the inquest: ‘In 2012, Malcolm made the decision to leave the Army, he felt as if he had ”been there and done it”.’

In 2015, Mr Callender became the works and estates bursar at Wellington College after getting a call from an old contact he made during the military.

His wife added: ‘He ran his department like a little military unit. He would organise a number of different socials, from BBQs in our garden to getting everyone to do the Tough Mudder race.’

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