A man who denies the manslaughter of his childhood friend, who he punched when out celebrating his 21st birthday, has told a court he was hit first.

Patrick Conway, 22, of St John’s Road, East Molesey, is one of seven men facing trial at Kingston Crown Court for their alleged parts in a brawl after which St Mary’s University College student Patrick Lawless died.

The court heard Mr Conway admitted punching Mr Lawless after the drink-fuelled fight, which started outside the Royal Oak in Teddington High Street, but claimed it was in self defence.

Mr Conway told the court Mr Lawless was on a suspended sentence after he beat a man up because he did not have a lighter he could borrow.

Mr Conway said: “Pat Lawless knocked him unconscious and dragged him towards the river in Twickenham and then started kicking him repeatedly in the head and I think broke a few bones in his face.

“That’s why everyone was concerned. We wanted to get him home. We didn’t want him getting in trouble.”

Mr Conway, who took the stand today as the defence case started, told the court about his friend.

He said: “He was the funniest guy I have ever met. He was nice. He was the smartest guy I have ever met.

“I have heard of this different side coming out but I never witnessed it.

“He was a bit more angry than the average person but I had never witnessed anything like this.

“He was very strong and he was getting stronger. He was fitness obsessed at that point. His degree at university was strength and conditioning.”

The court heard after the fight on November 10, 2012, a group, including Mr Lawless and Mr Conway, moved up the high street to the Kings Head, the Clockhouse and then into Field Lane.

Mr Conway told the court his girlfriend, Sally Lewis, sat Mr Lawless on a fence in Field Lane to try to calm him down but he spat in her face and she stormed off and then started shouting.

Mr Conway said: “Everyone was just taken back saying ‘why did you spit at her?’ Pat’s fists were clenched. He wasn’t really responding or saying anything.

“Sally carried on shouting. I said to Sally ‘calm down he didn't mean to do it’. She was a bit shocked when I said that because all of us saw him do it and saw it was intentional but I thought it was the best approach.”

Mr Conway said Mr Lawless started shouting obscenities at his girlfriend and then asked him to have a word away from the group.

He said: “I just said to him ‘what’s up? What’s wrong?’ He was just pulling his trousers up, he was really drunk. He had blood all over his face. His fists were clenched. He was talking about me and Sally but as though I wasn’t there.

“I was just shocked I had never seen Pat like this. I couldn’t see a catalyst for it. I didn't know why he was doing it. He kept on asking ‘why is Conway going out with her?’.”

Mr Conway said he told his friend to shut up and that he should go home but he said he did not listen.

He said: “I finally said to him ‘you are ruining my birthday, what’s wrong with you?’

“At this point he seemed to get even angrier. He clenched his fists tighter, he was on his toes springing up and down as though he wanted to fight someone.”

Mr Conway told the court Mr Lawless punched him once but looked ready to swing at him again so he punched him back.

He said: “He just punched me. If he had stopped then I think nothing would have happened but I could see the same thing was going to happen again so I punched him once in the face.”

The court heard Mr Lawless stumbled back and sat on some railings before his friends came to see if he was all right.

Mr Conway said: “I was shouting at Pat ‘why did you just do that? Why did you just go for me? I have been trying to help you all night.”

The court heard Mr Conway put Mr Lawless in the recovery position and tried to check his pulse while waiting for the ambulance to arrive but a man turned up and told him to leave.

He said: “I think he realised that it was me that punched Pat.

“We reluctantly left. I was in a state. I didn’t want to leave. I was upset. I was crying on the bus back to Hampton Hill. I didn’t know what had happened to Pat.”

The trial continues.