Monday 18 December 2017

Fan admits attacking Neil Lennon, says he is very sorry

Hilary Duncanson

A football fan admitted today that he assaulted Celtic manager Neil Lennon during a match last season, telling a jury: "It must have been awful for him."

John Wilson, 26, told Edinburgh Sheriff Court: "I can't say how sorry I am to Mr Lennon."

Wilson, a Hearts fan from Edinburgh, told how he had "let so many people down" as a result of the assault on May 11 and regretted "every moment" of it.

But he denied making a sectarian remark during the incident, as prosecutors allege.

Wilson denies calling Mr Lennon a "Fenian b******", saying he instead called the football star a "f****** w*****".

Asked about his views on sectarianism, he stated: "It's not right."

Wilson was giving evidence for the defence on the third day of his trial, where he stands accused of attacking Lennon at a Hearts v Celtic match at Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh.

The attack is alleged to have been religiously aggravated.

Wilson, who described himself as a life-long Hearts supporter, said he went to the Scottish Premier League game with friends after one of them bought him a ticket.

The atmosphere at the ground was "terrible", he said, with sectarian singing and supporters shouting and "slagging each other".

Wilson, who said he had not taken part in the singing, said he became "angry" after Celtic scored a second goal and he started shouting, swearing and booing.

During the evidence, Wilson admitted a series of allegations put to him by defence advocate David Nicholson.

He accepted that he ran on to the field of play, ran at the away-team dugout, shouted, swore and caused annoyance and disturbance.

He also admitted lunging at former Northern Ireland player Lennon, assaulting him and striking him on the head during a "moment of madness".

But Wilson, who told the court he has learning disabilities, insisted he had not made a sectarian remark during the incident but instead had said: "Lennon ya f****** w*****."

He told the court: "I regret every moment of it. I've let so many people down."

Wilson, a labourer who was unemployed at the time, said he had let his parents and children down, as well as himself, adding it was "not my normal behaviour".

Asked if he understood how the Celtic boss must have felt, he replied: "It must have been awful for him. I can't say how sorry I am to Mr Lennon."

Questioned about sectarianism, Wilson, who said his family was Catholic on his father's side, insisted: "It's not right. I've seen what went on in the past. It's just not the right thing to be doing at a football game or anywhere else."

Fiscal depute Melanie Ward later urged the jury to convict Wilson of the charges against him in full.

Mr Nicholson asked the jury to clear Wilson of making a sectarian remark and of the alleged religious aggravation.

"At best, there must be a reasonable doubt on the evidence," he said.

The jury is now considering its verdict after Sheriff Fiona Reith QC completed her legal directions.

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