Fan cleared of Lennon attack after not proven verdict

Radio 5 live commentators Roddy Forsyth and Andy Gillies described the incident at the time

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A Hearts fan has been cleared of assaulting Celtic manager Neil Lennon after an Edinburgh Sheriff Court jury found the case against him not proven.

John Wilson, 26, had denied his actions were aggravated by religious prejudice.

He was found guilty of breach of the peace by running onto the pitch at Hearts' ground Tynecastle last May and shouting and swearing at Mr Lennon.

Wilson will return to Edinburgh Sheriff Court at a later date where he will be sentenced.

Earlier in the trial, before Sheriff Fiona Reith QC, the jury heard that Wilson had written a letter of apology to the Celtic manager.

Celtic's Neil Lennon and John Wilson at Tynecastle Celtic manager Neil Lennon being approached by John Wilson at Tynecastle

Wilson had been accused of assault and breach of the peace, both of which were aggravated by religious prejudice.

The charges stated that he had assaulted Mr Lennon and had caused breach of the peace by conducting himself in a disorderly manner, running onto the field during the match, running at the away team dug out, shouting, swearing, making a sectarian remark, all to the alarm and annoyance of others and causing further disturbance within the crowd.

Wilson had denied all the allegations against him.

The court had earlier heard that Wilson admitted breaching the peace and attacking Mr Lennon, but denied uttering a sectarian remark.

He had described the incident as a "moment of madness" and said he "regretted" it.

Paul McBride QC reacts to the not proven verdict in the case of a man accused of assaulting Neil Lennon

In his closing speech, defence advocate David Nicolson had told the jury that Wilson had earlier been willing to plead guilty to breach of the peace and assault under deletion of making a sectarian remark and being aggravated by religious prejudice, but the Crown had not accepted his plea.

The jury of seven women and eight men deleted the reference to making a sectarian remark from the charge relating to breach of the peace, and that the offence was aggravated by religious prejudice.

They returned a not proven verdict for charge two, which alleged Wilson assaulted Mr Lennon aggravated by religious prejudice.

Earlier the court had heard from Celtic coach Alan Thompson, 37, who told how he grabbed Wilson's clothing and threw him off balance before he fell to the ground.

Start Quote

We find the accused's acquittal of the charge of assault difficult to comprehend bearing in mind our knowledge of the incident”

End Quote Celtic Football Club

Peter Croy, 61, who was security manager at Hearts' Tynecastle stadium on 11 May, had told the court he heard Wilson say: "Lennon, you Fenian bastard" after pinning him to the ground.

Giving evidence Wilson had denied that was what he said.

Celtic Football Club released a statement following the verdict.

It said: "It is for the jury to decide on this case. However, we find the accused's acquittal of the charge of assault difficult to comprehend bearing in mind our knowledge of the incident.

"One thing is clear - this was a disgraceful incident involving Neil Lennon, seen by the world - the sort of incident which should not have happened in any football stadium and one which embarrassed Scottish football.

"Regardless of the verdict reached, we hope that people will learn from the events of last season and realise these cannot be repeated.

"As always we will give Neil Lennon our full support and hope that this season he can be given the opportunity to be allowed to do his job without the kind of threats, attacks and intimidation which have marred much of his time in Scotland."

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