MORE than 50 ‘‘coward punches’’ have been recorded in the Hunter over the past two years and medical personnel on the frontline say that violence on the streets is as vicious and aggressive as ever.
Official figures show assaults have dropped by more than a third since 3am closures, 1am lockouts and a ban on shots after 10pm were imposed on 14 venues in Newcastle in 2008.
The Newcastle model has been touted as so successful in reducing alcohol-fuelled violence that this week Premier Barry O’Farrell announced similarly styled restrictions would be introduced at larger venues in central Sydney.
But coward punches are still a regular facet of nightlife in Newcastle, unofficial NSW Ambulance data from 2012 and 2013 shows. In those two years, paramedics were called out 52 times to treat victims felled by a surprise blow to the head.
Often referred to as ‘‘king hits’’ these sort of attacks are now being called ‘‘coward punches’’ at the suggestion of the family of Daniel Christie, who died after being assaulted in Sydney on New Year’s Eve.
In the Newcastle CBD and Hamilton there were almost 30 coward-punch incidents in the past two years – more than Wollongong and the South Coast combined, the ambulance figures show.
The Sydney metropolitan area recorded 139 incidents.
All of the victims in the Hunter were male. Their ages ranged from 15 to 52.
More often than not, according to paramedics, the victims were sober and attacked by people who were drunk.
While December was celebrated in Newcastle as having the lowest number of assaults for any month in at least three years, it was one of the worst months for coward punches, the ambulance figures show.
Three were recorded in the city and one in Merewether. Two occurred on December 29 – a 19-year-old was knocked unconscious in the CBD while another man was punched on the footpath in Newcastle West.
A NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said their data should only be used as a guide because paramedics did not always record the type of offence that resulted in a patient being treated.
Sometimes coward punches or king hits were not reported as such in calls to triple-0.
‘‘This does not mean they were not king hits, only that they were not reported as such to NSW Ambulance,’’ she said.
This meant the prevalence of coward punch call-outs could be even higher.
Hamilton paramedic Libby Harris sees first-hand the violence on the city’s streets.
Coward punches were confronting, she said.
‘‘We know the prognosis [so] it makes it quite stressful to deal with, especially if there are aggressive bystanders on scene,’’ she said.
‘‘Based on the education and experience I’ve had over the past seven-odd years I know people aren’t going to come out of them well and that it will more often than not lead to death or being in a wheelchair due to brain haemorrhaging.
‘‘Usually when you fall you put your hands out to protect you but with a king hit you’re knocked unconscious before you hit the ground.
‘‘Boys are very aggressive but there have also been a lot of assaults by women.
‘‘I’ve never seen a woman do a [coward punch] though.’’
John Hunter Hospital’s emergency department manager Dr Mark Lee said he had noticed a trend of vicious assaults that targeted the head, face and neck.
He said there were fewer assaults coming through since the ‘‘Newcastle solution’’ was implemented but the ones occurring now were extremely violent.
‘‘There’s often more than just a fist involved, it’s also a weapon or broken bottle,’’ he said.