Belfast Telegraph

Attack on Celtic boss Lennon not sectarian, court rules

A football fan who attacked Celtic manager Neil Lennon has escaped a conviction for sectarian assault.

Life-long Hearts supporter John Wilson (26) had been accused of an assault aggravated by religious prejudice on the Lurgan-born football boss.

However, Wilson was convicted by the jury of a breach of the peace on May 11 when Celtic had played Hearts in a crucial Scottish Premier League game at Tynecastle stadium in Edinburgh.

The jury at Edinburgh Sheriff Court said the charge of sectarian assault was "not proven", a verdict in the Scottish system which falls short of "not guilty" but is not a conviction.

A spokesman for Celtic said the "not proven" verdict was "difficult to comprehend bearing in mind our knowledge of the incident". The decision came despite Edinburgh resident Wilson telling the court yesterday that he had lunged at Mr Lennon and struck him on the head during the incident.

The jury of eight men and seven women took two-and-a-half hours to return their verdicts after a three-day trial.

The court had heard claims that Wilson had called Mr Lennon a "Fenian b******" at the SPL clash. He denied those claims, also denying that his actions had been aggravated by religious prejudice. He told the court he had said: "Lennon ya f****** w*****."

Wilson's defence advocate David Nicolson said Wilson had been willing to plead guilty to breach of the peace and assault if references to making a sectarian remark and being aggravated by religious prejudice had been deleted, but the Crown had not accepted his plea.

Instead, it was the jurors who deleted the allegation from the breach of the peace charge.

The court heard previously there was a "terrible" and "poisonous" atmosphere in the stadium on the day, with supporters singing sectarian songs and shouting at each other. Wilson had run onto the field of play, and ran at the away team dugout, while shouting and swearing.

The jury found that in doing so, he had caused "alarm and annoyance" to others and had added to crowd disturbance.

Wilson was remanded in custody and sentencing was deferred until September 14.

Background

Giving evidence on the first day of the trial, Neil Lennon told the court that the pitchside incident followed a season that saw him threatened with bombs and bullets.

The former Northern Ireland international said Hearts-Celtic games are "more raucous than usual" but that this particular game in May "had a bit more of an edge to it" with a lot of abuse coming from the stands.

He told the court: "Packages have been sent in the past. A 24-hour armed guard outside my house. Police protection. My house has been refitted with new security alarms. I was sent viable devices in the post. I was sent bullets in post."

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