John Terry walked out of court yesterday fully acquitted of having racially abused Anton Ferdinand but not without some reservations from the judge about the Chelsea captain's version of events.
Terry left Westminster magistrates' court without comment having heard District Judge Howard Riddle declare that, given the "doubt" as to how Terry had uttered the words "f*****g black c**t" in the game at Loftus Road on 23 October last year, "the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty".
The 31-year-old had never denied saying the words but claimed that he was repeating them back to Ferdinand sarcastically after the QPR defender had accused Terry on the pitch of having made the allegation. Ferdinand, giving evidence on Monday, denied that he had accused Terry of the insult on the pitch.
Despite that, Terry stuck to his version of events through interviews with the FA and the police and cross-examination in court. In his written judgement, Riddle said: "Mr Terry's explanation is, certainly under the cold light of forensic examination, unlikely. It is not the most obvious response. It is sandwiched between other undoubted insults."
Riddle acknowledged that the prosecution had "built a strong case" but pointed to the fundamental issue brought up repeatedly by the defence that, despite lip-reading evidence, "it is impossible to be sure exactly what were the words spoken by Mr Terry at the relevant time. It is impossible to be sure exactly what was said to him at the relevant time by Mr Ferdinand."
Although there was footage of the incident from Sky Sports, and from more than one angle, Terry's face was blocked at the crucial moment by the head of John Obi Mikel in the shot. Riddle said: "It is a crucial fact that nobody has given evidence that they heard what Mr Terry said or more importantly how he said it. He has effectively given the same account throughout."
Also on Terry, Riddle said: "His account has been subject to the most searching and through questioning on at least three occasions. Nobody has been able to show he is lying. The lip-readers do not provide evidence that categorically contradicts his account ... I have assessed John Terry as a credible witness."
Riddle said that he believed it was "highly unlikely" that Ferdinand had accused Terry of calling him a "black c**t" on the pitch but he said that he accepted the explanation put forward by the defence counsel George Carter-Stephenson QC on Thursday that there was a "possible" misinterpretation.
Ashley Cole, who backed up Terry's version of events by saying he believed that Ferdinand had said the words "black" and "c**t", was described by Riddle as having given "corroborating (although far from compelling corroborating) evidence on this point. It is therefore possible that what he [Terry] said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him."
The Football Association is expected to continue its investigation into the incident, having said yesterday it would "conclude its inquiries". Terry will join up next weekend with Chelsea's pre-season tour of the United States which leaves today for Seattle. Terry is expected to join the squad when they fly from Seattle to New York on Friday for the east coast part of the tour.
Despite a not-guilty verdict, it begs serious questions about whether Anton's brother Rio will ever play for England again while Terry remains an international player. In police logs read to court the Ferdinand brothers' PR man Justin Rigby was said to have told the police that the pair would make their disapproval known to the press if Terry was not pursued for prosecution. Rigby intimated that the older Ferdinand was very angry about Terry's behaviour. As yet there has been no word from the family.
Ferdinand's parents, Julian and Janice Lavender, said nothing in court when the verdict was read out and left the building without giving any interviews to the press. Given some of the loaded tweets that Rio Ferdinand has posted during the case, it is inconceivable that he will not have a view.
Court lines: In their own words
Duncan Penny, prosecutor: “The words he [Terry] uttered included “F*** off, f*** off ... f****** black c***, f****** knobhead’”
John Terry [in FA interview played to court]: “... and we’re still having a, sort of, ding-dong, if you like. That’s when, as I said before, he [Ferdinand] said, ‘Black c***’. Now clearly, as I said before, I don’t think he’s calling me a black c***, but at the same time, I then take quite a strong offence.”
Terry [in FA interview]: “Then I obviously hear the word ‘shagging’ and, I don’t want to say it, but if I have to again, ‘shagging Bridge’s missus’”
Terry [in FA interview, on Bridge insult]: “It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, so it’s with a pinch of salt a little bit now.”
Terry [in FA interview]: “If someone said to me: ‘You’re an ugly c***’ I’d say ‘An ugly c***? Look at yourself, whatever.”
Terry [in court]; “I put my hand to my mouth suggesting Anton had bad breath.” Penny: “Did he?” Terry: “No”
Penny: “How many times did he call you a c***?” Ferdinand: “I couldn’t tell you”
Anton Ferdinand on what Ashley Cole said to him after the game: “He said: ‘Nah, you can’t talk to JT like that’”
Ferdinand: “I was just jogging up the pitch and I continued to give him the gesture.” Penny: “Which is the gesture to demonstrate ‘shagging’? Could you show us what you mean?” [Ferdinand obliges]
Ferdinand on post-match meeting: “He [Terry] said: ‘What happened out there, geez?’” Penny: “’Geez’ is short for ‘geezer’, right?”
Ferdinand: “We said it was just handbags”. Penny: “By that you mean nothing serious, would handbags have been the right description for a racist remark?” Ferdinand: “No, never. I wouldn’t be going in there to have a talk [if he had thought it was a racist remark].”
Ferdinand: “If someone calls you a c***, that’s fine but when someone puts your colour into it that takes it to another level. It’s very hurtful.”
George Carter-Stephenson QC (defence) to Ferdinand: “Being called a c***, that I would suggest wasn’t the first time it had happened to you. It has happened numerous times from numerous other players and no doubt you have called it back together with a great many other expletives.”
Carter-Stephenson: “You were wound up.” Ferdinand: “No, I’m a calm, cool, collected player.”
Carter-Stephenson: “Why did it make you angry he [Terry] was appealing for a penalty. Ferdinand: “Because I’m a winner”
Ferdinand [on why he did not make a complaint]: “It was more about what happened on the pitch. I wanted the FA to deal with it”
Susan Whitewood, lip-reading expert, witness, reading her version of exchange: “There was an obstruction for a moment and then – excuse me – “you f****** black c***”
Terry [to FA]: “There are not many places we go in the world – apart from Man United, Arsenal, maybe Liverpool - where you feel it will be a battle. You think with the quality we have we can overcome anyone. QPR were pumped up and wanted to win the game.”
Terry: “I could get 2,000 people in here [to say he is not racist]. Whether it is Spanish or Ivory Coast players, it is me who welcomes them to the club and to my home.”
Detective Constable David Doherty: “Anton has a very different style of life to a normal person. He plays football and outside of that his life is very unstructured. He’s very difficult to get hold of.” Carter-Stephenson: “Unless through his PR man?” DC Doherty: “Or his mother”
“On a street in Soho” DC Doherty’s answer as to where he finally got Ferdinand’s signature on his police statement.
“On a weekly basis.” Terry’s answer in court in response to the question how often he gets abuse about his alleged extra-marital affair.
Penny: “You are one of the world superstars of the game”. Terry: “I wouldn’t say that, but I am famous, yes.”
Penny: “There are comments about mothers [between players]”. Terry: “I have had that. Penny: “Forget about your circumstances, how about [have you heard] ‘Your mum’s a slag’?” Terry: “Only to myself”
Penny: “Your domestic circumstances, was that a no-go area [for insults]?” Terry: “Clearly not.” Penny: “To your friends it should be”. Terry “I wouldn’t say we [he and Ferdinand] were friends”
Penny: “Has anyone ever said to you ‘English c***’? Terry: “Yes, I would think so, I just laugh it off. Penny: “Anyone ever said ‘white c***’?” Terry: “No”
Terry: “There are places where you don’t go [with insults] but the girls [ie insults about wives etc] are part and parcel of the game”
Penny: “The truth is of the matter is that you are not a racist but you used racist language. You snapped. It was instinctive. You were fed up with people abusing you over the issue with your wife.” Terry: “I didn’t snap”
Penny [on Terry’s fat gesture to Paddy Kenny in the same game]: “It’s a characteristic of his physical features, it marks him out as different from you.” Terry: “I have been called it” Penny: “But you are a supreme athlete.” Terry: “I used to be”
Terry: “Put yourself in my shoes. I have had it all before. I have heard stuff about my mum but it’s gone, a long time ago. If anything would tip me over it’s comments about my mum.”
Penny to Terry: “It all makes sense, you say ‘F*** off, f*** off ... and I have had yours, you f****** black c***’”
Penny to Terry: “Referees don’t enforce the letter of the law when you swear because if they did you lot would all be off the pitch on ten minutes. It wouldn’t be much of a spectacle.”
Penny: “You’re the England captain, have you ever been consulted over team selection?” Terry: “I used to be England captain”
Carter-Stephenson: “You have only been sent off four times in your career.” District Judge Howard Riddle points out the microphone is not working. Carter-Stephenson: “Can you say, please, four times, again?” Terry: “Please, please, please, please”
Terry: “My mum dated a guy from Liverpool for a while. The Liverpool fans made up a song that my mum ‘loves Scouse c**k’”
Riddle: “The court would prefer it if you stood in the witness stand.” Ashley Cole: “I’ll sit down.”
Cole: “I didn’t want to get involved ... I wanted my lawyer to issue a neutral statement”
Carter-Stephenson: “Have you ever been racially abused by fans?” Cole: “No ... yes, when I played for England in games in Europe.”
Carter-Stephenson: “Did you feel a conflict [giving evidence]?” Cole: “Yes, obviously JT is my team-mate but I am a friend of Anton and I have known his family a long time.”
Penny: “You’ve had lurid details of your life in the press too. Not much fun it is it?” Cole: “No”. Penny: “You don’t like it.” Cole: “I’m a grown man. I can take it.”
Penny: “You’ve played for Arsenal, they don’t make any noise at the Emirates do they?” Debate follows on which stadiums are the quietest. Penny: “Let’s not have that argument now.” Cole: “You’re the one who brought it up.”
Cole on court case: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t be sitting here.”
Ray Wilkins: “I have seen John, with the allegations made in certain areas, take some unmerciful criticism.”
Bruce Buck, chairman of Chelsea: “He [Terry] has an uncanny mental strength. Other people have it but I have never seen it quite like JT has it ... whatever bumps and bruises in his life he can go on the football field and do his job as if nothing is going on.”
Jose Mourinho [in statement read to court] on Terry: “I have never once witnessed any demonstration whatsoever of racism or racial abuse or behaviour.”
District Judge Howard Riddle: “Mr Cole gives corroborating (although far from compelling corroborating) evidence on this point [of Ferdinand accusation on pitch] ... in those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty”