England footballer convicted of street affray

Leeds footballers' verdict: Main story

Ian Herbert,North
Saturday 15 December 2001 01:00

The Leeds United footballer Jonathan Woodgate was convicted yesterday of taking part in an affray before a vicious street attack on an Asian student during a drink-fuelled night out.

Woodgate, 21, was found guilty of chasing Sarfraz Najeib in Leeds city centre nearly two years ago, but spared a prison sentence and ordered to do 100 hours of community service.

His team-mate Lee Bowyer, 24, walked free from Hull Crown Court, cleared of assault and affray charges arising from the attack, which left the 21-year-old student unconscious with a broken nose and cheekbone and a fractured leg.

The men are now free to resume their England careers, but each was left with a £1m legal bill for a second lengthy trial.

Woodgate's friend Paul Clifford, 22, who knelt to bite Mr Najeib's cheek, was found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm and affray and jailed for six years Another of Wood-gate's friends, Neale Caveney, 22, was convicted of affray, acquitted of assault and given 100 hours of community service. All men had denied the charges.

Ordering Mr Bowyer to pay his costs, the trial judge, Mr Justice Henriques, said his police interviews were "littered with lies".

Mr Bowyer was unanimously acquitted on both charges, just after midday. He blew out his cheeks in a gesture of relief, then looked across to Woodgate, who had been convicted of affray – an offence that could have brought a three-year prison sentence. The jury, still undecided on Woodgate's assault charge after about 22 hours of discussion, was told it could bring a majority verdict instead, and took a further hour to acquit him.

The judge was told Woodgate had been convicted of assault after headbutting a youth at a shopping centre seven years ago, but said: "It has been obvious to me that you have suffered ... agonies. That is etched upon your face."

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