Neil Lennon attacker receives 'not proven' verdict over sectarian charge

Neil Lennon attacker receives 'not proven' verdict over sectarian chargeA Hearts fan who attacked the Celtic football manager, Neil Lennon, on the touchline during a game between the two clubs has escaped conviction for a sectarian attack but has been found guilty of breach of the peace.

John Wilson, 26, was prosecuted for assault aggravated by religious prejudice at the Hearts stadium in Edinburgh last May, days after it emerged Lennon had been targeted by potentially lethal parcel bombs.

Edinburgh sheriff's court heard evidence from Peter Croy, the Hearts' head of security, that Wilson shouted "Lennon, you Fenian bastard" as he was being restrained on the touchline, moments after striking Lennon on the head.

Lennon told the court the assault was a "tipping point" after months of death threats, including live bullets sent in the post, and angry confrontations during Rangers games.

Describing the incident on 11 May, Lennon told the jury: "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."

However, Wilson emphatically denied the sectarianism charge and the jury returned a "not proven" verdict, a decision in the Scottish system which stops short of declaring a defendant innocent of the offence.

Wilson admitted attacking Lennon and said it was "a moment of madness" brought on by his frustration at another Celtic goal in the game and refereeing decisions. He insisted members of his family were Catholic.

Television footage of Wilson's assault was widely broadcast as it emerged soon after that five parcel bombs had been sent to various prominent Celtic fans and Catholics, sparking a major police operation.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, for The Guardian on Wednesday 31st August 2011 18.30 Europe/London

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