Cantona case fan was 'just cheering'

The non-appearance of Eric Cantona as a witness in the trial of the football fan accused of provoking a kung-fu attack by the Manchester United player meant that the prosecution must fail, magistrates were told yesterday.

Adam Davis, defence counsel for Marc Simmons, told the court in Croydon, south London, there was a "plethora" of evidence which suggested that all Mr Simmons was doing in the seconds prior to the attack was pointing to the players' tunnel after Cantona had been sent off during the match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United in January 1995.

He said: "There are many, many witnesses, more than 30, in the immediate vicinity who do not attribute any words or actions to Mr Simmons either because it was too loud or, as Mr Simmons said, he just joined in with the general cheering that was going on."

Of the 70 witness statements police had taken following the incident, the prosecution had been able to find only three people to give evidence that they heard Mr Simmons swear at Cantona, Mr Davis said.

He went on: "All the prosecution witnesses are tainted by the newspaper coverage of the case. Simmons' character, the incident itself and particularly the making of these witnesses' statements, all coincide with articles appearing in the newspapers."

Mr Davis said the only way that the Crown could prove that Cantona had been provoked by the words or actions of a particular fan would be to call the footballer as a witness.

"The one person who could have given the answer of what he reacted to is Cantona himself."

The magistrates took the unusual step of adjourning overnight to consider their verdict. Mr Simmons, 21, of Thornton Heath, south London, denies using threatening words and behaviour.