A PROFESSIONAL footballer was captured on CCTV in a violent city centre fracas while on a night out in Leeds.
Port Vale striker Justin Richards was with four friends from the West Midlands when they were involved in what a judge described as a “disgraceful incident.”
Sentencing them yesterday at Leeds Crown Court, Judge James Spencer QC said they had all had far too much to drink that day.
“You continued to drink notwithstanding that and when the clubs had finished you took part in some gang violence in the street.
“Each one of you were chivvied along by the example set by your friends, each one of you were ready to act in this violent and criminal way.”
He said two of the group, Steven Cooper and Ashley Francis, were also ready, when the opportunity presented itself, to kick a defenceless man on the ground. Cooper did it “not once but several times”.
But he accepted they were ashamed of their actions, which had been out of character and that reports and references showed a different picture of them.
“That almost makes it worse, because if you are such decent people why on earth did you behave like that.”
Carmel Pearson, prosecuting, said the incident began near the Corn Exchange in the early hours of December 19 when one of the group, Cameron Wright, was seen pacing before confronting an unidentified man in a leather jacket.
That man, who was to become the victim of the greatest violence, was backing away. Wright was then seen to push another man who also walked away.
After Wright was joined by Richards, the first man was seen to stand his ground as Wright approached him for the second time, throwing a punch which missed.
Miss Pearson said Richards then punched the man on the side of the face before Wright threw another punch which again missed. As the man defended himself against them the other three joined in.
She told the court the victim was pushed or pulled to the ground and while lying there was kicked for the first time by Cooper.
The man managed to get to his feet and was filmed trying to defend himself from other blows and managed to land a blow himself on Cooper.
Following that, Francis and another of the group, Gavin Arnett, threw him to the ground again where Cooper struck a blow as Richards was dragging Wright away from the incident.
Although the man got up again, he was again put the ground where he was kicked repeatedly by Cooper who also stamped on his face before being dragged away by one of the victim’s group.
Miss Pearson said the man appeared dazed and a woman went to his aid. But as he was sitting up, Francis ran in and kicked him in the back before he was helped away.
When they were arrested the group said they were acting in self-defence after an earlier altercation in a bar with the man involved and his group.
All five of the defendants admitted affray. Richards, 30 of Mary Road, West Bromwich was fined £2,000 and given a community order with 100 hours’ unpaid work.
Cooper, 29 of Sanders Crescent, Tipton and Francis, 29 of Constance Avenue, West Bromwich were each given 50 weeks in prison suspended for 12 months, with a fine of £2,000 each and 200 hours of unpaid work.
Wright, 26, a teacher of Penny Hill, West Bromwich, was given a 12 months’ community order with 100 hours’ unpaid work and a fine of £1,000 while Arnett of Bache Street, West Bromwich received a £2,000 fine with a community order and 200 hours’ unpaid work.
Adrian Langdale, for Richards, told the court his client had started his footballing career with an apprenticeship at West Bromwich Albion and was known for his charitable work and support for schemes such as Show Racism the Card.