The John Terry verdict explained


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Chelsea captain John Terry has been cleared of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand - a complicated case that simply comes down to nobody being sure what happened.

England and Chelsea captain John Terry (right) speaking with QPR's Anton Ferdinand during their teams' Premier League match at Loftus Road Terry and Ferdinand clashed at a game at Loftus Road

Senior District Judge Howard Riddle ruled that while John Terry had used language that could amount to an offence, the player was not guilty because the crucial phrase may not have been said as part of an insult. Let's break down the judgement:

What was the allegation?

John Terry went before the court facing one allegation: that on 23 October 2011, at QPR's Loftus Road ground, he used "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour" which were likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress" and that the alleged offence was racially aggravated.

To cut a long story short, a dispute had developed on the pitch between Mr Ferdinand and Mr Terry. You can read all the ins and outs of the argument in the BBC's trial coverage.

Mr Terry was said in court to have responded to Mr Ferdinand with a string of swear words, curses and other insults which included the word "black".

During the trial, Mr Terry did not deny using the words, but his case was that they had not been used as an insult or abuse. His case was that he thought he was being accused by Mr Ferdinand of uttering a racist phrase - and that he repeated the same words back to the QPR player as part of his denial that he had used them in the first place.

There was no dispute in court that the words were uttered - so the question for the judge was whether Mr Terry had uttered them as an insult.

Footage and lip readers

At the heart of the case was the television footage of the game and lip-reading analysis of what happened between the players. However, none of the footage shows complete uninterrupted views of the players' mouths.

The lip-readers for the prosecution and defence agreed a transcript as best as they could - but they could not comment on the "tone of voice" or the context in which the words were being used.

The judge concluded that the prosecution had built a strong case. But if it was so strong, why did he find John Terry not guilty? Quite simply because he could not be sure that the Chelsea player had in fact intended to insult Mr Ferdinand.

For a start, the lip readers said they could not be clear about a couple of words in the exchange which, depending on which way you look at it, could have indicated whether or not Mr Terry was trying to insult Mr Ferdinand.

Secondly, nobody other than Mr Terry gave any evidence about what was actually said on the pitch. Mr Ferdinand said he did not know what Mr Terry had said until later. Nobody else on the pitch heard it - or if they did, they did not offer any evidence to that effect.

Thirdly, the judge said he accepted evidence that Mr Terry had learnt to live with the particular taunt used by Mr Ferdinand against him, so it was unlikely that he would have been wound up.

Finally, the judge said he had to take into account the player's record of only four red cards in 600 matches - and none of them relating to abusive behaviour.

Judge Riddle said: "[John Terry] was expertly and forcefully cross-examined. He maintained his account. Moreover he has been fully co-operative with the process throughout.

"He gave a detailed account to the FA five days after the game. He answered every question, and having heard the tape of that interview, it is clear that he did so without prevarication. He then further co-operated with the police enquiry."

The judge continued: "Weighing all the evidence together, I think it is highly unlikely that Mr Ferdinand accused Mr Terry on the pitch of calling him [the racist phrase]. However, I accept that it is possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made.

"It is therefore possible that what he said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him."

And given that doubt over the precise series of events, the judge said the only verdict could be one of not guilty.

Dominic Casciani, Home affairs correspondent Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • Comment number 219.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 218.

    This entire episode can only be racist if there is, indeed, something wrong' about being black (or Jewish, or Pakistani etc) - if there isn't (and there isn't), then there isn't anything wrong with the use of the term 'black, no matter in what insulting terms it is mentioned.

    If you really do believe that everyone is equal (and I do), then there simply cannot be any racism.

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    Comment number 217.

    The case should never have gone to court. Furthermore Terry was wrongly demoted because of this.
    This is so inconsistent.This week a Hungarian athlete's run with the olympic torch through a village near Corfe castle was cancelled because residents threatened to demonstrate because a villager who committed a crime in Hungary was imprisoned.Imagine the uproar if it would have been a black athlete!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    John Terry believed that Anton Ferdinand used the words in question at him prompting the response from JT: "I never called you ....". What's the problem? The fact that this case came to court in the first place was an over-reaction on the part of the Police to an incident that could have been mollified by interviewing the pair of them together without the influence of others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Multiculturalism? No thanks.


Comments 5 of 219



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