`Threatened' Guscott is cleared of assault charge

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JEREMY GUSCOTT, the former England rugby union international, was yesterday cleared of assaulting another man.

It was alleged that Mr Guscott attacked antiques dealer Kenneth Jones after the shopkeeper stepped in front of the player's car in Bath. Mr Jones claimed Mr Guscott had pushed him across the road and into a doorway, breaking his ankle. But yesterday, after a trial lasting five days, a jury at Bristol Crown Court, found Mr Guscott, 34, not guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm. Mr Guscott, who was expressionless as the verdict was delivered, refused to comment on the result.

The court had been told that the incident took place last March as Mr Guscott was driving his Mercedes sports car through the city. It was alleged that whilst stopped at traffic lights the player became involved in an altercation with the 47-year-old antiques dealer who had tapped on the car with a ball of string.

Susan Evans, for the prosecution, claimed that Mr Guscott got out of his car and started pushing Mr Jones across the road and into a shop doorway. As he did so he broke Mr Jones's ankle.

But Sally Bennett-Jenkins, for the defence, said Mr Guscott was defending himself after Mr Jones attacked his car. She claimed her client had been frightened by Mr Jones. "I felt ... threatened and believed that the man was going to attack me," Mr Guscott told the court.

During the trial, the jury had watched a video recording of the scuffle between the two men, caught on closed circuit television. Summing up, Miss Bennett-Jenkins said: "Without the video, his [Mr Jones's] false account could have been accepted. His false account which is riddled with inconsistencies and characterised by inaccuracy," she said.

She said that Mr Jones's claim that he had been frightened by Mr Guscott was at odds with his actions. "If you are frightened, what do you do?" she added. "You don't go back for more. You don't shout `Oi - I'm having you' All of his actions as opposed to those of this defendant, are of temper."

During the trial Mr Guscott's fellow players gave evidence on his behalf. Bath player and former England captain Phil de Glanville said Mr Guscott was "laid back, easy going and relaxed" and his friend of 20 years Barry Frayling said he was "a calm person and always courteous".

Ms Evans said Mr Guscott had lost his temper. "The prosecution do not suggest for one moment that Mr Guscott is ordinarily anything but a controlled and calm individual. But on 24 March he acted in a manner that was entirely out of character for him," she said.

She ridiculed the suggestion that Mr Guscott was frightened. "Mr Guscott is noted for his speed and agility. If he felt threatened ... or if he was going to be attacked, all he had to do was to use that speed and agility to get right back in the car and drive away."

Last night Mr Jones said he was to pursue a civil claim for damages against the player. Reading a prepared statement, he added: "I wish to make it clear that the decision to prosecute was not mine but that of the police. I would much prefer that the incident had never happened in the first place. That said, I was disappointed by the jury's decision."