Footballer John Terry yesterday won one of the biggest battles of his sporting life after being cleared of hurling racial abuse at another player.
The wrong result would have wrecked the Chelsea defender’s England career, destroyed his reputation and potentially cost him a fortune in sponsorship and other deals.
But instead, he walked out of Westminster Magistrates’ Court with a not-guilty verdict, although without the full backing of some footballing figures.
The 31-year-old was acquitted of a racially aggravated public order offence by Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
It was alleged that he had called Anton Ferdinand a “f****** black c***”.
But Terry claimed he was sarcastically repeating a slur that the QPR defender mistakenly thought he had used during a Premier League match last year.
After the verdict, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said: “We are pleased that John can now put his mind to football and go back to training and do what he’s done for many years.”
Dan Morrison, Terry’s lawyer, issued a statement saying: “He has consistently explained his position to the FA, the police and to the court. He did not racially abuse Mr Ferdinand and the court has accepted this.”
The case was highly charged and led to Terry losing the England captaincy and ultimately to Fabio Capello leaving the manager’s job.
The Football Association said it will now “seek to conclude its own inquiries” into what happened.
But Paul Elliott, an ambassador for anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out, said the whole episode had painted football in the worst possible light.
The former Chelsea player said: “There’s no winners in this situation.
“Football’s a wonderful way for people to express themselves, break down barriers, challenge a lot of areas around all forms of discrimination and prejudices so it’s very sad we’re here today witnessing this sad and sorry outcome.
“It’s about learning the lessons and ensuring that this type of situation doesn’t come into a court again.”
Former footballer and BBC presenter Garth Crooks said Terry should still face action from the FA.
“I believe it was wrong of him to say these words under any circumstances – and though Terry has been found not to have committed a criminal offence, the FA must now decide whether the former England captain should be charged for contravening its own rules.
“If the FA don’t act on the undisputed facts, and find Terry guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, a lot of good people are saying to me that there’s no point in getting involved in the game at a senior level.”
Giving his verdict, Mr Riddle told the court the case was not about “whether Mr Terry is a racist in the broadest sense of the word”.
He said he had heard a great deal of evidence to show that he is not.
“It is understandable why Mr Terry wants to make this point, his reputation is at stake,” he said.
Terry jerked his head downwards as the verdict was given, and his supporters in the public gallery cheered.
Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle said the “only verdict” the court could reach was one of not guilty.
He told the court: “Weighing all the evidence together, I think it is highly unlikely that Mr Ferdinand accused Mr Terry on the pitch of calling him a black c***.
“However I accept that it is possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made.
“In those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty.”
He said despite the abundance of TV footage, there was no way to be sure what Terry had said at the crucial moment.
Terry left the court within minutes of the verdict.
He made no comment but was cheered by a small group of Chelsea supporters as he was driven away.
Ferdinand’s parents, Julian Ferdinand and Janice Lavender declined to comment as they left court.