Belfast Telegraph

How did the David Healy case ever come to court?

An unreliable witness who lied about being attacked, a star whose career was under cloud for a year while he fought the charge... so how did the David Healy case ever come to court?

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

The "extraordinary" decision to pursue a doomed court case against Northern Ireland footballer David Healy is to be raised at Stormont.

An assault charge against the former Manchester United and Rangers striker was thrown out of court last week.

The father-of-two was acquitted after a football fan admitted lying in a bid to smear Healy after claiming he was assaulted by the player in Belfast city centre.

Healy, who is currently without a club having been released by Bury FC, told the Belfast Telegraph the case had plunged him into a living nightmare, affecting him professionally and personally.

Questions have been asked of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) as to why it persevered with the case against the 34-year-old, with the matter due to be raised at Stormont's justice committee.

Two members of that committee yesterday hit out at the PPS for its handling of the case.

Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott said he was baffled why the case had been taken to court when it was apparent that Conor Crossan had given two different versions of the alleged assault – one to the police and one in an email to the Irish Football Association.

"It's quite clear the Public Prosecution Service have answers to give as to why they did proceed with it. It raises serious questions about how they take these decisions. Some of their decisions just baffle me. Such cases hanging over people's heads leaves them in turmoil."

DUP MLA Jim Wells said, having reflected on the case, he was at a loss to understand how it ever came before a court.

"David Healy has to be treated the same way as anybody else," he said. "It seems extraordinary the case was ever brought at all." His DUP colleague, Edwin Poots MLA, also hit out at the PPS.

Crossan, a 33-year-old from north Belfast, admitted in court last Friday that he misled the IFA in an attempt to prevent Healy playing for Northern Ireland against The Netherlands a year ago.

He told District Judge Peter King: "I was angry. I had a broken nose. I did not want him to get his trip away to be an international hero."

The PPS yesterday said there was no basis to take any action against Crossan.

In response to the criticism of the PPS decision to pursue the case, a spokeswoman said: "The PPS is content that this case was properly brought.

"Indeed, the court refused to exceed to a defence application at the end of the prosecution case that there was no case to answer."

Healy, who was playing for Rangers at the time, denied the assault.

He admitted their heads clashed but insisted he acted in self-defence after being subjected to sectarian abuse in which he was called an "orange b*****d".

Crossan claimed to have sustained a broken nose in the altercation, but could provide no medical evidence.

During last Friday's hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court it was revealed that Crossan, five years earlier, allegedly called a Protestant workmate an "orange b*****d".

During an earlier hearing another district judge, Joe Rice, was scathing in his criticism of preparation efforts made by police and the prosecution.

Mr Rice said the viability of proceeding with the case should have been reviewed at that time.

"All I'm getting is obfuscation," he said during the June hearing.

"I think the response of the police and the Public Prosecution Service so far fall short of the high standards required by the court."

He added: "The viability of this case proceeding should be reviewed by senior PPS people."

Crossan had claimed he was headbutted by Healy after a night out in Belfast in May of last year.

He told police it was an unprovoked attack and that he had not tried to approach the footballer. But in an email to the IFA's Belfast office days later, he said he had been attacked after asking for the player to pose for a photo with him.

Crossan, a self-employed father-of-two, said he sent the email because he had not heard back from police after lodging his complaint.

Crossan did not deny claims in court that the email was an attempt to blacken Mr Healy's name.

'It's been a nightmare, now I just want to get on with life'

Northern Ireland football star David Healy spoke of a nightmare year during which he fought to clear his name amid an allegation he assaulted a man in Belfast city centre.

Ultimately acquitted of the charge, Healy admitted the case had impacted him professionally and personally. Despite being Northern Ireland's record goalscorer and having played for top teams including Manchester United and Rangers, the striker is currently without a club following his release from Bury FC at the end of last season. His wife Emma thanked friends and fans for their support over the past year.

She spoke of how the ordeal had taken its toll on her husband.

"It's been a horrible and worrying 14 months for David," she said on Twitter. "The truth always comes out in the end."

Having scored 36 goals for international underdogs Northern Ireland, including the 2005 winner against England, the Killyleagh man is a hero among supporters here.

Claims that he headbutted a man on a night out in Belfast in May of last year threatened to forever tarnish the reputation of the man nicknamed 'King David'.

Healy's accuser, north Belfast man Conor Crossan, eventually admitted telling lies to blacken the striker's name in an attempt to have him removed from the squad ahead of a glamour friendly match against The Netherlands in Amsterdam.

Minutes after his acquittal Healy (34), who was awarded an MBE for services to football, admitted that he had endured "a nightmare" over the last 12 months.

"It's been dragging on for too long and I'm just glad it's over," he said.

"I'm glad it's all done and I can get on with the rest of my life.

"It's over now and the accusations have been totally false. It's been hard, when people falsely accuse you of something you didn't do.

"It's difficult. As long as I live people will try and tarnish you with 'what about that time he supposedly headbutted somebody in Belfast'. But today I've been acquitted and I'm delighted."

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph this week, Healy declined to comment further on the case and the impact it has had on his career. He said he simply wanted to get on with his life.

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