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The John Terry verdict explained

  • 13 July 2012
  • From the section UK
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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.

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