A teenager is in a critical condition in hospital after being attacked during New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney's Kings Cross area - the latest alleged victim of an epidemic of "king-hitting" across Australia and beyond.
Daniel Christie, 18, was assaulted just metres from the spot where Thomas Kelly was king-hit - knocked out cold by a single punch - in July 2012, later dying from his injuries. That incident sparked nationwide revulsion, and led to the introduction of tough anti-alcohol measures in Kings Cross, including a freeze on new liquor licences. But the largely unprovoked attacks have continued, with a spate of them last month causing the death of one young man and leaving two others in induced comas.
The apparently random assaults, fuelled by alcohol and carried out for no reason other than mindless violence, mirror a series of similar incidents in the United States. Some experts have linked them to a social media game called Knockout, which involves king-hitting passers-by and posting videos online of them lying unconscious on the pavement.
The New Year's Eve attack took place just after the 9pm fireworks on Sydney Harbour, and on the same street where 18-year-old Kelly was felled by a single blow from Kieran Loveridge. Loveridge was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for at least four years in November.
Christie's alleged assailant, Shaun McNeil, 25, was remanded in custody until Monday. The Parramatta Bail Court heard that McNeil is accused of punching four other victims during the same assault. He has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm to Christie, assaulting Christie's brother, Peter, and common assault. Police Prosecutor Sergeant Lisa McEvoy said McNeil had earlier drunk about eight beers and one glass of wine.
Mark Murdoch, Assistant Commissioner of New South Wales Police, said Christie, who underwent surgery for serious head injuries at St Vincent's Hospital, did not know McNeil. It was the latest instance, he said, of someone affected by alcohol and "intent on, we will allege, just going out and hurting people".
McNeil was one of 173 people arrested across NSW during New Year's Eve celebrations - nearly twice as many as the previous year. The more serious incidents included the fatal stabbing of a 44-year-old man in Port Macquarie.
During the spate of alcohol-fuelled violence in the final days of 2013, a tourist was king-hit last Sunday at a Surfers Paradise nightclub, and an Indian student was attacked in Melbourne. Both were placed in medically induced comas. Also on Sunday, a 24-year-old English backpacker was headbutted from behind and knocked unconscious in Coffs Harbour. Police say one of his alleged attackers, Amanaki Kilisimasi Kaufusi, 21, had been boasting that he wanted to hit someone. He and a friend allegedly stomped on their victim's face as he lay on the ground, breaking his jaw.
The NSW Government has defended itself against calls for tougher measures, saying that alcohol-related assaults in Kings Cross have fallen by 25.5 per cent since Kelly's death. Statistics analysed by Fairfax show that drunken violence is still a major problem in other troublespots such as George St and the Rocks area. Murdoch said: "Even with police on every corner, we still cannot stop this kind of fight."
- additional reporting AAP