John Terry cleared of racism against Anton Ferdinand

John Terry leaves court after being cleared of racially abusing Mr Ferdinand

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Ex-England captain John Terry has been cleared of racially abusing fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand.

The Chelsea and England defender had denied making the comments to the Queens Park Rangers player during a match at Loftus Road last October.

The 31-year-old told Westminster Magistrates' Court he was merely repeating what he thought Mr Ferdinand had said to him as they traded insults.

The FA has said its inquiry into the incident will resume next week.

Mr Terry had described himself as "angry and upset" over the claims.

It was alleged he had insulted Mr Ferdinand in a Premier League match, describing him as "black" and using extreme sexual swear words.

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Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle said he had heard a great deal of evidence to show Mr Terry was not racist.

In his written judgement, he said that after weighing the evidence it was "highly unlikely" that Mr Ferdinand accused Mr Terry of racially abusing him however he said it was possible that Mr Terry believed at the time that an accusation had been made.

Mr Riddle went on: "The prosecution evidence as to what was said by Mr Ferdinand at this point is not strong.

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

"In those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty."

Garth Crooks, of anti-racism in football campaign Kick It Out, says it is only half-time for John Terry

Mr Terry did not deny using the word "black" and swearing at Mr Ferdinand.

His defence was that he had thought Mr Ferdinand was accusing him of using the words, and was simply repeating them when he was caught on camera.

He was backed in court by Chelsea team mate Ashley Cole.

Mr Terry, who was widely seen as one of England's best players in this summer's European Championship, jerked his head downwards as the verdict was given.

There were cheers in court from his supporters.

Analysis

This trial was not just about what one player said to another - and why - in a fiercely-contested Premier League match back in October.

It was seen as a landmark case around the national sport's efforts to improve race relations, tolerance and respect, raising serious questions over what is deemed acceptable behaviour on the field of play.

Although John Terry was found not guilty of racial abuse, this was still a highly embarrassing week for football.

The trial exposed the unedifying reality of the professional game; a world littered with foul language and crude insults.

The FA's Respect campaign, designed to ensure top players are role models for the millions of youngsters who look up to them, has suffered a major blow.

Terry will move on from here - able to resume his career - but football faces a major challenge to recover from one of the most troubling years in the game's history.

He did not comment to the waiting media as he left court but his lawyer, Dan Morrison, said outside: "The court has today acquitted John Terry of all charges.

"He did not racially abuse Anton Ferdinand, and the court has accepted this."

Following the verdict, an FA spokesman said: "The FA notes the decision in the John Terry case and will now seek to conclude its own inquiries."

Bruce Buck, chairman of Chelsea Football Club, said: "Chelsea Football Club notes and, of course, we respect the decision of the magistrate today.

"We are pleased John can now put his mind to football, go back to training and do what he has been doing for many years."

Anton Ferdinand is on the way to Hong Kong with his QPR team mates for a pre-season tour.

Leaving court, his father Julian Ferdinand told waiting reporters: "I have nothing to say to you at all."

Elaborating on his judgement, Mr Riddle said Mr Ferdinand was brave to give evidence, calling him a "believable witness".

He explained that it was not for him to decide whether Mr Terry was a racist, and that his only role was to ascertain whether the offence was carried out.

Mr Riddle said that any discrepancies in his account were "understandable and natural".

He also said it was understandable that Mr Terry was so keen to argue he does not hold racist beliefs, adding: "His reputation is at stake."

Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, defended the decision to bring the case to trial.

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 in October

She said: "The very serious allegation at the heart of this case was one of racial abuse.

"It was our view that this was not banter on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court."

Ms Saunders pointed out that the magistrate agreed Mr Terry had a case to answer when his defence moved to have the prosecution thrown out earlier in the week.

Of the subsequent acquittal, she added: "That is justice being done and we respect the chief magistrate's decision."

The case led to Mr Terry being stripped of the England captaincy by the FA.

England manager Fabio Capello then resigned in protest.

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