Court Report: Sheffield man jailed for prank death

Russell Fairchild
Russell Fairchild, 47, was jailed for three years. Photograph by South Yorkshire Police

A Sheffield man who shot his best friend with an air rifle in a failed prank was yesterday jailed for three years.

Police officers found Russell Fairchild, 47, (pictured above) sobbing and covered in blood after he killed Christopher Humphreys, 24, at his home on Handsworth Grange Road, Darnall on May 5.

Fairchild admitted manslaughter at an earlier hearing.

Fairchild drank 10 pints of lager and smoked canna­bis with Mr Humphreys and another friend, Richard Saville, at the Cross Keys pub on Handsworth Road. The group then left for Fairchild’s home in the evening, Sheffield Crown Court was told.

Christopher Humphreys, 24, died six days after being shot in the head by Fairchild.
Mr Humphreys died six days after being shot in the head by Fairchild.

The friends watched television and drank beers in the living room when Fair­child left and returned holding an air rifle.

They chatted and joked together when Fairchild pointed the gun at Mr Hum­phreys.

Fairchild cocked it and said, “dance, dance”, before firing. He walked from the room without knowing the firearm was loaded, prosecutor Simon Whaley told the court.

Mr Saville noticed Mr Humphries was badly injured and called for Fairchild to come back to the room.

Covered in blood

As soon as Fairchild realised what happened he called for an ambulance and “did what he could” to save his friend, Mr Whaley told the court.

Emergency services arrived at the house after 10.20pm. Fairchild was “heavily intoxicated, incoherent and very upset,” a police statement said.

His hands were covered in blood and officers had to forcibly remove him from his friend’s body.

Mr Humphries was later taken to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital where doctors found the pellet had struck him above his right eye and entered his brain.

He died six days later.

Mr Whaley said the group regularly spent time together at Fairchild’s home and he had “got out an airgun in horse­play” on previous occasions.

He would position it against peoples’ heads to their ears and fire it as a joke, he told the court.

Michelle Colbourne QC, mitigating, said Fairchild did not realise the rifle was loaded when he fired it at Mr Hum­phreys during a “silly game” they indulged in “weekend after weekend.”

She said the incident left him “full of self-loathing.”

“[He] will live in the knowledge and guilt that he has killed his best friend, for­ever,” she told the court.

She said he was social and well-liked within the community.

“He has been a good man … there’s nothing to suggest he is nothing but a thoroughly decent human being.”

Sentencing Fairchild, the Recorder, Julian Goose QC said he acted with “criminal negligence”. His han­dling of a weapon while drunk made it “a more culpable act”.

“[But] you have shown remorse for the tragic killing of your friend,” he told him.

The judge said he will serve half of his three-year sentence in prison before being released.

Not a toy

After the plea hearing earlier this month, Det Insp Victoria Short of South Yorkshire Police said the case tragically demonstrated that owning an air weapon can have fatal consequences.

“Even though air weapons can be legal­ly owned, they are very dangerous items and must be treated as such,” she said.

“These weapons must be used in the correct and appropriate manner, stored safely, and not played with while under the influence of alcohol.”

Christopher Humphreys’ family said in a statement: “Today marks the end of this terrible ordeal for our family, and we can now begin to grieve the devastating loss of Chris who was a fantastic son and brother.

“We would ask that our family is al­lowed privacy while we grieve, and would like the public and the media to respect this decision.”