Scottish anger as Lennon’s attacker beats charge

There has been disbelief in Scotland after a man who assaulted the manager of Glasgow Celtic Football Club escaped punishment -- despite the attack taking place during a live televised football match.

Celtic boss Neil Lennon Lennon, directing his team from the sidelines at a tense soccer match against Edinburgh rivals, Hearts, was struck on the head by a fan who, just moments before, had jumped out of the stands and lunged towards him.

The match was watched live by tens of thousands of soccer fans, and John Wilson’s frenzied attack was recorded by dozens of cameramen and photographers.

Hearts is considered to be the Scottish capital’s equivalent of Glasgow’s predominately Protestant-supported Rangers, with a section of fans who engage in anti-Catholic and anti-Irish chants and jeers.

When a steward at the game reported hearing Wilson shout ‘You Fenian Bastard’ before he dived on Lennon, there appeared little doubt that the Celtic man had been subjected to a flagrant sectarian assault.

Lennon has long been subjected to a sectarian hate campaign in Scotland over his Catholic, County Armagh roots, as well as his decision not to play for a ‘Northern Ireland’ soccer team. Targeted by a UVF parcel bomb and the recipient of a number of death threats, Lennon has faced physical assault by loyalists on the streets of Glasgow.

But the decision of a jury in (predominately Protestant) Edinburgh this week to find the televised assault ‘not proven’ has been greeted with anger and renewed concern over rising anti-Catholic sentiment in Scotland.

The jury of eight men and seven women took two and a half hours to return their verdict after a three-day trial.

Former British Home Secretary (and a former Six County Direct Ruler) John Reid warned the outcome had dealt a hammer blow to the Scottish Government’s hopes of stamping out sectarianism.

In a letter to First Minister Alex Salmond, Reid, said the verdict was “incomprehensible” and said it had put new legislation on sectarianism in doubt.

“In this light, these wider implications of this verdict cannot be other than seriously damaging.

“There is a widely held view that present laws should be robustly applied before new legislation is introduced.”

A Scottish lawyer described the verdict as “completely and utterly inexplicable”.

“This was a well presented prosecution case,” Paul McBride QC said. “He was seen live on television assaulting Neil Lennon. He admitted in evidence lunging towards Neil Lennon.

“He wrote Neil Lennon a letter of an apology and his own counsel accepted the only issue at the trial was whether he used inappropriate language.

“Against that backdrop, of all of that, they acquit him of the assault that he admitted.

“The verdict is utterly inexplicable.”

Sinn Fein assembly member Fra McCann, a Celtic supporter, said he was “quite shocked” by the outcome of the case.

“Obviously the jury was watching different footage from everyone else,” he said.

“I was quite shocked when I saw the outcome. I think the vast majority of Celtic fans will be the same.”

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