My fear by player who gave evidence against his friend

Leeds footballers' verdict: Michael Duberry
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The Independent Online

The repercussions against Michael Duberry began the day he gave evidence against his friend and Leeds team-mate Jonathan Woodgate, when three men in balaclavas came to his home demanding to know where he was.

Hate mail, abusive phone calls and death threats have since been made against him, police installed a panic button at his home, and at one point he even left the country fearing for his own safety.

"My worry is that one day the shouting will stop and someone will attack me. Now I am wary of going out and I don't go out in Leeds overnight," he says. "Woody and Bowyer are more loved than me and I am living under fear. I have done nothing wrong but I am said to be the main sinner."

His crime, in the eyes of football fans for whom loyalty is everything, is one of betrayal. But he has paid a heavy price for putting the truth before his allegiances to team-mates.

A leg injury has kept him on the sidelines, but there must be question marks over the reception he will receive should he return to the Leeds first team after what he describes as one of the most frightening episodes in his life.

It was the former Chelsea defender's last-minute change of evidence while he was a defendant during the first trial at Hull Crown Court that implicated his best friend and Elland Road hero Woodgate in the horrific attack on Sarfraz Najeib in Leeds city centre.

Days later, Mr Duberry was cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

But, inevitably, so damning was his evidence that the 26-year-old was called as the prosecution's star witness during the retrial.

Mr Duberry was signed for Leeds for £5m, and in his five months at the club he had made only one real friend – Woodgate. They went on holiday together. Mr Duberry was lonely, having separated from the mother of his two children who remained in London.

On the morning of Tuesday 20 March, the 25th day of the first trial, Mr Duberry took Woodgate into a sideroom and warned his friend that he was going to "tell it like it is".

The former international schoolboy athlete recounted in court that he was playing for Leeds reserves in Liverpool on the night of the attack and had paid a brief visit to the Majestyk nightclub before meeting his friend Woodgate – on his way back from the scene of the attack – in City Square.

"He said they had just had a fight with some Asians," Mr Duberry told his counsel, Miss Claire Montgomery QC, in an admission that astounded the courtroom. Mr Duberry went on to explain that he had lied to police in his original witness statement to protect Woodgate and because he did not want to get involved.

He also said that he had gone to see the police and the Leeds United club solicitor, Peter McCormick, who he said told him to stick with his original story. Mr McCormick denied this at the second trial.

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