Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Neil Lennon gives evidence in trial of John Wilson

Neil Lennon
Image caption Celtic manager Neil Lennon was the victim of the alleged attack

Neil Lennon has told a jury about the moment he was attacked during a game against Hearts at Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh in May.

The Celtic manager was giving evidence in the trial of 26-year-old John Wilson at the city's Sheriff Court.

He described feeling a glancing blow on his head and seeing the accused sprawled on the ground in front of him.

John Wilson denies charges of assault and breach of the peace, both of which are aggravated by religious prejudice.

Mr Lennon told the court he felt the atmosphere had been "on edge" and felt "angry" after he was assaulted.

He told how it was a "huge game" in the season as Celtic were in the running to be the Champions in the Scottish Premier League.

He said: "I felt like a glancing blow to the corner above the left eye.

"It all happened very quickly, I went into a defence position to avoid the contact, whatever way he was off balance so he was lying in front of me on the ground.

"I was going to go for him because I wasn't sure what he had in his hand, it was a split second self defence mechanism. Thankfully it didn't come to that."

Principal fiscal depute Melanie Ward asked Mr Lennon if he had done anything to incite the attack and he replied: "No I was just doing my job as professional as I could be".

Ms Ward asked if he was able to concentrate on the match after and Mr Lennon said not really.

"I was just angry, after all the stuff that had happened to me previously that I couldn't do my job properly and it took the gloss off my team's performance because I knew the headlines would be about me again rather than the team and that really disappointed me," he said.

The jury, who were also shown video footage of the alleged incident, heard that Mr Lennon, who identified Wilson in court, has received threats against his life including bullets and a viable device in the post and has had to have 24-hour security at his home.

When asked how he felt about being attacked Mr Lennon said: "It was the tipping point for me, it was the last straw.

"I'm a football manager at the end of the day and this sort of thing is nothing to do with football and it brought embarrassment to Hearts and Scottish football in general."

'Worse atmosphere'

The court also heard how Alan Thompson, 37, a professional football coach with Celtic grabbed Mr Lennon's attacker by his clothing and managed to put him off balance.

Mr Lennon said: "This came out of the blue, if it had not been for the intervention of Alan my personal safety could have been at risk."

Defence advocate David Nicolson told Mr Lennon he was not disputing the fact that Mr Wilson attacked him but that the case was about what, if anything, was said.

He asked Mr Lennon if he heard anything being said and he replied no and that the atmosphere had been noisy and he was pulled away quickly.

Earlier, the court heard from former police officer, James Church, 54, who is assistant to the head of safety, security and operations at Celtic Football Club.

He said the supporters were quite aggressive during the game on 11 May and unpleasant things were being shouted.

Mr Church told how Celtic scored two goals, one in the first half and one in the second half, and that the atmosphere had deteriorated.

He said: "The atmosphere was poisonous and I was getting quite concerned because we had scored a second goal and the crowd were angry."

Mr Church described how he had been behind the dug out and behind Mr Lennon and other members of the management team including Alan Thompson.

Wilson is accused assaulting Mr Lennon and of breaching 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 there.

He denies all the allegations against him.

The trial before Sheriff Fiona Reith QC continues.

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