Boycott's sticky wicket: `I didn't hit her, I didn't push her, I didn't make her fall'

GEOFFREY BOYCOTT, the cricket commentator and former England Test batsman, yesterday categorically denied beating up his girlfriend in a French hotel.

"I never hit her. I didn't push her. And I didn't cause her to fall," he told a court in Grasse on the French Riviera.

Mr Boycott, 58 today, was being allowed a second legal innings by the French judicial system. In his first innings in January he scored a duck by failing to turn up for the trial. He was convicted in his absence, fined pounds 5,000 and given a three-month suspended prison sentence.

The retrial yesterday, despite the seriousness of the charges, often bordered on the absurd. The tiny French court, besieged by the British media, wrestled gamely with "L'Affaire Boycott" - with problems of fact and terminology thrown up by cricket lore, English legal and breakfast customs and Yorkshire accents.

"I don't understand Anglo-Saxon culture. Please can you explain that [cricket] to me?" the judge, or president of the court, Dominique Haumont- Daumas, asked plaintively at one stage. "Is is true that a cricket ball is this size?" She cupped her hands in approximately the right dimensions.

"Yes," said Mr Boycott's lawyer, Jean-Luc Cardona. "And it is very hard and goes very fast, at around 80 kilometres an hour."

At another stage, Ms Haumont-Daumas asked: "What is Shredded Wheat?" Mr Boycott explained that it was breakfast cereal which he advertised. Ms Haumont-Daumas is expected to announce her judgment and any sentence next month.

Mr Boycott brought 13 witnesses. All were character or circumstantial witnesses; none was present at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes in October 1996 when he allegedly knocked down his mistress, Margaret Moore, and struck her 20 times on the head, face and chest.

Medical reports and photographs presented to the trial showed that Ms Moore had extensive bruising to her face and two black eyes. Mr Boycott, the former England opening batsman, now a cricket commentator and journalist, said that Ms Moore, 46, injured herself when she fell over while trying to throw his shoes, shirts and underpants out of the hotel window during a quarrel.

Three of his witnesses due to give evidence late last night were women who contacted him after the first trial to say they had received similar injuries in accidental falls. Others were lawyers, acquaintances and the celebrity agent, Max Clifford. In all, he has spent more than pounds 200,000 bringing his defence entourage to France.

Mr Boycott appeared in a grey-green blazer with a metal Yorkshire rose in the lapel. For two hours he sat in the back of the court, or stood in the hall-way, surrounded by other alleged wrong-doers - petty thieves, violent husbands, a man who had received a stolen motorbike and a young Arab who had made a rude arm gesture at a police officer.

At one point, an impatient Mr Boycott was overheard to say: "It's a sticky wicket. I'll have to deal with it. That's what I'm doing."

Inside the court, lawyers defending other clients complained mildly that their cases were being adjourned unnecessarily to make time for the Boycott trial. "This is not the case of the century. Why delay it?" asked one lawyers defending a petty thief.

"I can assure you that none of the cases before this court today are the case of the century," said the judge, with a meaningful look at the ranks of British journalists overspilling the tiny press box.

Eventually "Boycott, Joffrey" was called.

Before Mr Boycott gave his evidence, all the witnesses were called together and stood bunched around the cricket commentator and Ms Moore to be presented to the judge. However, when the judge called out Max Clifford's name as a witness he failed to appear. She said: "It's not such a big court, how can he get lost?"

Mr Cardona answered: "Don't forget we are dealing with Anglo Saxons." Mr Clifford then appeared.

Finally, it was Boycott's turn to bat. He confidently denied ever having struck Ms Moore and told the court how she had tried to encourage him to live in Monaco for tax reasons, and to marry her. "I told her `no marriage, no living in Monaco, because I earn my living in England, therefore I will be taxed in England, therefore it would not help me'."

He said it was in the summer of 1996, before their trip to the South of France, that their relationship began to break down. "Throughout 1996 the relationship was becoming a bit strained," he said. "The reason being Margaret Moore wanted me to marry her - I said `no'."

On 2 October, 1996, Mr Boycott said, after having lunch by the hotel pool, he became "fed up" when she again raised the issue of marriage and moving to Monaco.

He told the court how he walked away from lunch and asked the concierge at the hotel reception to book him a flight to London immediately. "I went upstairs, put the suitcase on the bed and started to pack my things to leave. I started to pack away my things - my shoes, my toilet bag and my underwear in the suitcase.

"Margaret Moore burst through the door in a rage - mad as hell, mad, angry, furious, angry."

He told the court that Ms Moore started shouting at him that if he left her she might as well end her life. "She said she might as well end it all - commit suicide, end it. I sat on the bed, I just did not know what to do, I had never been in this situation before. She then came in from off the ledge."

Asked by the judge if Ms Moore then calmed down, Mr Boycott replied: "No, she was still in a rage. She started throwing my things out of the window - toilet bag, socks and underwear."

He said she then went to the wardrobe and grabbed his suit and threatened to throw it out."I went to grab the suit to stop her throwing it out. I pulled the suit and she was pulling it and I fell backwards on my left elbow."

The commentator said Ms Moore was still angry and went to get his shoes to throw them out of the window but slipped and banged her head.

The couple stayed two more nights at the hotel, enjoying two lunches and dinners and sleeping in the same bed, he said. "We went home on the same flight, no flights were changed."

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