Cantona fan is jailed for attacking lawyer

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The football fan who provoked Manchester United's Eric Cantona to launch his infamous kung-fu kick was jailed for seven days for contempt of court yesterday after attacking a lawyer when he appeared for sentence.

Crystal Palace supporter, Matthew Simmons, 21, hurled himself, shouting, at 55-year-old prosecuting counsel Jeffrey McCann in front of three magistrates at Croydon Magistrates Court in south London.

The attack came after the magistrates ruled that Simmons was guilty of two charges of using threatening words and behaviour during the Cantona incident at Selhurst Park on 25 January 1995.

Mr McCann got to his feet and started to apply for an order under the Public Order Act excluding Simmons from football grounds when Simmons leapt over a bench at him.

As police rushed towards him, Simmons swung his legs round over the bench, appearing to kick Mr McCann in the chest. As Mr McCann tried to get away, Simmons - his arms and legs flailing - held on to his collar. Mr McCann broke free as police overpowered Simmons and led him away in handcuffs. Simmons shouted: "I am innocent. I swear on the bible. You press. You are scum."

The chairman of the bench, Mary Richards, jailing Simmons for seven days for contempt, said: "Your violent outburst today was an obvious and serious contempt of court. We feel a turn of custody is appropriate."

For his offences at Selhurst Park, the magistrates fined him pounds 500 and ordered him to pay pounds 200 costs for the first, more serious charge of using threatening, obscene or insulting words of behaviour likely to cause immediately unlawful violence by another person.

They ruled there should be no penalty for the second offence of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

They also made an order excluding him from all football matches for 12 months.

Adam Davis, defending Simmons, said his client was sorry for his attack on Mr McCann. "He would like to apologise to the court and to the members of the public and especially to Mr McCann. This certainly doesn't excuse his behaviour."

He said Simmons had been under immense pressure and had suffered death threats since the Cantona incident. It had been suggested by the press that he was in some way responsible for the death of a Crystal Palace fan in Birmingham in April last year, said Mr Davis. "I have spoken to the police force. They believe he has coped admirably with the pressure that has been heaped on him."

He said that recently Simmons had been hospitalised as a result of a severe panic attack which required treatment.

He said his client had not attempted to strike Mr McCann.

Mr McCann said of yesterday's attack: "I am content to accept his apology. I have no intention of pressing charges. I am not injured in any way."

In mitigation for the two offences of using threatening words and behaviour at Selhurst Park, Mr Davis said: "I am sure you will bear in mind what happened to the other party in this matter. You will also bear in mind that Mr Simmons would not have found himself in the position he is in today but for Mr Cantona's actions."

He said that since the Selhurst Park incident, Simmons had lost his job as a double-glazing fitter and was now training in word processing.

Outside court, Sonia Sims, solicitor for Simmons, said he continued to maintain his innocence on the charges of using threatening words or behaviour. "He will now consider his position as far as an appeal is concerned."