Former Cardiff City and Aston Villa player Peter Whittingham tragically fell to his death down a set of pub stairs after 'horseplay' with friends, an inquest has found.
The 35-year-old English Premier League footballer, and father of two, lost consciousness after walking out through a fire door, only to tumble down stairs and hit his head.
Though some staff claimed Whittingham had been “punched and knocked out”, coroner Graeme Hughes confirmed the death to be accidental.
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“CCTV showed the men were play fighting. It was lighthearted and playful which involved no malice. All are evidently smiling throughout,” said detective constable Stephen Jenkin at the hearing.
The incident took place on March 7, 2020 at the Park Hotel in Barry. Whittingham died after 11 days in a coma.
Whittingham had been in "rush" to leave home
A Cardiff City midfielder for a decade until 2017, he had been intoxicated after hours of drinking, the court heard.
He had been in a rush to leave home at around 3pm, said wife Amanda, because he wanted to watch the Wales v England Six Nations rugby match. He hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.
Amanda was reportedly seven months pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby boy two months after his death.
CCTV shows moments leading up to tragedy
Whittingham went out with his friend Ryan Taylor and his brother-in-law, Robert Williams, who described the evening as a “blackout”.
Shortly after 9.30pm, CCTV footage showed Whittingham in the hllway play fighting with his friends before he lost his footing. Off-camera, Whittingham went through a fire door where he tragically fell to his death down eight steps of stairs.
When brother-in-law Williams came out of the bathroom, he found Whittingham at the bottom of the stairs and tried to lift him, but he had gone limp.
Taylor had also attempted to help Whittingham to his feet before realising something was wrong.
“I walked over to him to offer my hand, thinking he would just take it and I would help him back up to his feet," Taylor told the court.
"When I looked more closely at Peter, I could see he wasn’t moving and something was wrong. Both of his eyes were open, they were white and had rolled back into his head,” he added.
Wife hopes achievements won't be "overshadowed"
Coroner Hughes said that Whittinham’s “demeanour and steadiness” had been diminished by the amount of alcohol he ingested.
“During a period of horseplay with a friend and a relative he appeared to have lost his balance, travelled through or caused to open the fire door, fallen, and as he did so his head has come into contact with the steps. This has led to a traumatic head injury,” said Hughes.
Whittingham was taken to University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff. But after 11 days in a coma, he was taken off life support and died on March 18.
Wife Amanda hoped that Whittingham would be remembered for his achievements, not for this tragedy.
“I hope they will not be overshadowed by his cruel death. Please support me in that,” said Amanda.
Whittingham, after a season with Blackburn Rovers, retired from football in 2019.