Guilty Boycott: 'I never thought that Fatal Attraction could happen to me'

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GEOFFREY BOYCOTT was stumped by the French courts for a second time yesterday. A judge in Grasse decided that the former England opening batsman was guilty of a brutal assault on his girlfriend in a French hotel two years ago. He was fined pounds 5,300 and given a three-month suspended jail sentence.

The cricketer-turned-commentator immediately appealed against the conviction. He also appealed to, what he assumes to be, the xenophobic umpire of British public opinion. "In the view of the way the trial was conducted," he said, "I suppose it is not a total surprise."

Speaking from Pakistan, where he is commentating on the Australian cricket tour for Rupert Murdoch's Star TV, he added: "When I went to see Fatal Attraction (a movie about a vengeful, jilted lover) I never thought it could happen to me."

The proceedings in Grasse last month were rumbustious, chaotic, often baffling, almost out of control, but most independent observers present - ie the British press corps - thought the cricket legend played a reasonable innings.

Perhaps too reasonable. Many of the 13 defence witnesses flown by Boycott to the south of France - at a cost estimated to have topped pounds 100,000 - had nothing directly relevant or credible to say. The judge, Dominique Haumant-Daumas, indulged Boycott and his lawyer when they presented hours of muddled evidence by, among others, a psychiatrist who had never met the victim, Margaret Moore, 46. (He judged her from television clips and conversations with a former husband to be a "hysterical psychopath").

There were also three British women who travelled to the Riviera at Mr Boycott's expense to say that they had suffered similar injuries to Ms Moore - two black eyes, severe bruising on the face - just by falling over. If it was a circus, it was mostly a circus of Boycott's making.

After presiding over the 10 hour trial of "L'Affaire Boycott", Judge Haumant-Daumas decided yesterday, in a delayed verdict, to impose the same judgment as another judge who conducted the original, 10- minute trial in January.

The first trial was set aside because the 58-year-old ex-cricketer had failed to turn up, saying he had a more important engagement commentating on test matches in South Africa.

Ms Moore, a divorced mother of two, claimed that Boycott punched her 20 times in the face, head and chest. Boycott insisted that she fell over while throwing his shirt, shoes and underpants out of a hotel window during a quarrel.

In a seven-page written explanation of her judgment, the judge made clear that Boycott's behaviour in court - telling Ms Moore's lawyer to "shut up" at one stage - had counted against him. "In the court," she wrote, "the accused didn't hesitate to interrupt rudely Mrs Moore's lawyer, tarnishing the image of the perfect gentleman which he brought his old friends and witnesses to testify to."

Judge Haumant-Daumas said the evidence presented to the court "did not support the theory of an accidental fall". She had decided Ms Moore was the victim of "purposeful blows".

Ms Moore, who went back to Grass for the judgment, said she was delighted. "I am the victim here. He beat me three times in all." She was, once again, awarded the one franc (10.5p) symbolic damages she had requested.

The difficulties of the trial last month, which continued until 2am, were caused mostly by a collision of French and British judicial and media cultures. In the French judicial system most of the evidence is presented in documentary form. Witnesses are questioned by the judge.

Boycott and his lawyer tried to turn the case into a British-style, confrontational hearing by bringing a string of character, circumstantial and expert witnesses to try to undermine Ms Moore's case. These tactics seemed to be aimed as much at the British media as the French court. Judge Haumant- Daumas, questioned the witnesses in a mixture of French and reasonable English. Hence many of the oddities of the trial.

"I don't understand Anglo-Saxon culture. Please can you explain that (cricket) to me?" she asked at one stage.

The basic facts, as presented, were these.

Ms Moore said she had quarrelled with Boycott at a restaurant when he accused her of failing to win enough money for him in sponsorship deals. He stalked back to the exclusive, pounds 1,000-a-night Hotel du Cap - where Ms Moore was paying for their short holiday - and tried to pack to go home. She admitted she had lost her temper and threw some of his clothes out of the window. An enraged Boycott, she said, knocked her to the floor and rained blows on her face, head and chest.

Boycott said that he argued with Ms Moore when she tried to persuade him to marry her and move to Monaco. When he returned to their room, it was Ms Moore who was "in a rage. Mad as hell. Mad. Angry. Furious." She got on to the window ledge and threatened suicide. Then she got back into the room and started to throw his possessions out of the window. It was when she reached for his suit, he testified, that she "slipped, fell over and banged her head ... I never hit her".

He suggested that she had flown into a rage on that day - and was trying to destroy his reputation now - simply because he had refused to marry her. He pointed out that he and Ms Moore had stayed on at the hotel, eating and sleeping together, for two more days after she was injured.

Two doctors who examined Ms Moore - one in France, immediately after the incident, another back in Britain - gave evidence that her injuries could only have come from physical blows. Two doctors retained by Boycott, basing their evidence on photographs, said her injuries could only have been caused by a fall.

The Third French Test - Boycott's appeal - is expected to be heard in the Provencal appeal court in Aix-en-Provence at a date to be fixed next year.