Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Lord advocate says Lennon case prosecution was 'right'

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

The move to prosecute a Hearts fan for an alleged sectarian attack on Neil Lennon was the "right one", according to Scotland's lord advocate.

Frank Mulholland's comment came after a jury cleared John Wilson of assaulting the Celtic manager at Hearts' Tynecastle stadium last May.

The 26-year-old was found guilty of a breach of the peace.

Mr Mulholland said there had been evidence "capable of being regarded as credible and reliable".

But the jury, sitting at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, returned a not proven verdict against Wilson.

The verdict has come in for criticism, with QC Paul McBride describing it as "utterly inexplicable".

Wilson was accused of assaulting Mr Lennon and had causing a 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, who will be sentenced at Edinburgh Sheriff Court at a later date, had denied his actions were aggravated by religious prejudice.

Mr Mulholland said: "The Crown takes all forms of hate crime very seriously.

"Our decision to prosecute John Wilson for alleged sectarian remarks was the right one.

"We respect the decision of the jury but will continue to prosecute as a hate crime any offence where there is a sufficiency of evidence."

During the trial, 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. However, the Crown had not accepted his plea.

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

Mr Mulholland said: "In the case against John Wilson there was evidence which was capable of being regarded as credible and reliable from a witness who attributed a sectarian remark to Mr Wilson at the time of the incident.

"If there is sufficient, credible and reliable evidence to show that the crime was motivated by particular hate, that aggravation will be libelled in the charge and will not be deleted as a result of plea negotiation - unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as a change in the evidential position.

"If accepted by the jury in this case then it could have been an aggravating factor which the sheriff would have taken into account when sentencing.

"The jury heard all the evidence and convicted Mr Wilson of breach of the peace without the hate aggravation and found him not guilty of the charge of assault, which also contained a hate aggravation.

"The Crown does not comment on any jury's verdict. That is a matter solely for them. The Crown will continue to prosecute all hate crimes when there is sufficient evidence in law to justify such charges being brought before the court."

Lennon 'disheartened'

There is no legal process by which the verdict of a jury can be appealed.

Meanwhile, Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said Neil Lennon had been left "disheartened and confused" by the verdict.

"In terms of yesterday's verdict I think most people would be baffled and find it difficult to comprehend the judgment and the verdict there," he said.

"The point I'd like to make is this is also a human issue here and I think we need to think about Neil Lennon at this point and the human consequences.

"He was left pretty disheartened, pretty confused, and we have to try and rebuild him and support him in another body blow. I would like to think that the right-minded people would join us in that."

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