Fan's early jail release 'undermines courts'

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The Independent Online
Prison chiefs were criticised by politicians, police and magistrates last night for allowing Matthew Simmons, the soccer fan who was jailed for a week for attacking a lawyer in court, to walk free after serving less than 24 hours of his sentence.

Simmons, found guilty of provoking the infamous kung-fu kick by footballer Eric Cantona at a match last year, left Highdown Prison, Sutton, Surrey, yesterday because governors said he could not be kept in over the weekend.

With automatic remission, Simmons should have been freed tomorrow, but prison chiefs said this was brought forward because, by law, inmates cannot be discharged at the weekend. The ruling was attacked by the Magistrates' Association, who said Simmons could have been kept in for a second night under recent Home Office guidelines.

The 21-year-old was jailed for contempt of court on Thursday for launching himself at prosecutor Jeffrey McCann after he was found guilty at Croydon Magistrates' Court of using threatening words and behaviour to Cantona during a match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Cantona made his attack in response to the taunts.

Simmons, of Thornton Heath, south London, was fined pounds 500 and banned from every football ground in Britain - but as the guilty verdict was announced he leapt over a bench and appeared to kick Mr McCann in the chest.

Lady Olga Maitland, the Tory MP, will table Commons questions next week about the situation. "This man displayed gross misbehaviour in court and should serve his full sentence," she said. "This is sending out entirely the wrong message by undermining the courts."

Chief Supt Brian Mackenzie, president of the Police Superintendents Association, condemned the way the criminal justice system was developing."It will be causing a lot of concern and the sooner we can get sentencing straightened out and transparent, the sooner the public's confidence will be restored."