Olympian's boyfriend jailed for fake attack

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The Independent Online

The white ex-boyfriend of the black athlete Ashia Hansen was jailed yesterday for faking a race attack on himself in a doomed attempt to win back the woman he said had "bewitched" him.

Chris Cotter, a former long jumper, was given a two-year term for setting up the fake attack, which he said had been caused by the couple's mixed-race relationship.

Judge Robert Orme said Cotter, 29, and his fellow conspirators Surjit Singh Clair and Craig Wynn, had "played the race card" to make the attack look more believable at a time of great sensitivity about racism.

The three had denied staging the attack, sending race hate mail to Ms Hansen and other black athletes, and attempting to con a newspaper into paying for their story.

The jury at Birmingham Crown Court convicted all three of conspiring to pervert the course of justice but cleared Cotter, from Plymouth and Wynn, 29, of Kingstanding, Birmingham, of attempting to obtain property by deception. Wynn was jailed for two years and Clair, 31, of Walsall, West Midlands, who was found guilty of both charges, was jailed for three years.

Passing sentence, Judge Orme said the three men had introduced a "bogus racist motive" to make the attack in March last year appear more credible "at a time of great public sensitivity and awareness of such issues".

The motives of the three were different, but Cotter was spurred on by his "obvious feelings" towards Ms Hansen and the potential financial benefits of a relationship with her, he said.

The judge said Clair's behaviour was worse because he tried to make a "significant personal profit" by selling the story. The Express newspaper agreed to pay £6,000 to Clair for the tale of the attack, but the money was never handed over after police became suspicious of Cotter's claims.

Cotter, now a financial adviser, had told the court he was stabbed three times in the back and slashed across the forehead by a gang of white men who warned him to stop "mixing" with Ms Hansen. He needed 10 stitches to his head after the staged attack near Ms Hansen's home in Erdington, Birmingham.

To back up the illusion of a race attack, the three sent race-hate mail supposedly from a far right group WANO (White Aryan Nazi Organisation) to Ms Hansen, four other black athletes and a backbench MP.

The attack appeared so convincing that Mike O'Brien, a Home Office minister, condemned it as an example of growing extremism.

Yesterday Cotter, whose athletics career was cut short by a car crash, showed no emotion as he was led away to begin his sentence, watched from the public gallery by his parents, Joe and Hilda.

After the case, Ms Hansen said in a statement: "I'm relieved that I can put this whole nightmare behind me and concentrate on my athletics career."

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