Pair jailed for Lennon attack

Lucinda Cameron,Pa
Friday 16 January 2009 16:16

Two men were jailed today for a "vicious, brutal and cowardly" attack on former Celtic captain Neil Lennon.

A jury found Jeffrey Carrigan, 43, and David Whitelaw, 47, both of Knightswood in Glasgow, guilty of assaulting Lennon by a majority verdict at the city's Sheriff Court.

Part of the charge, that the attack was aggravated by religious prejudice, was deleted.

Lennon, now a coach at the Glasgow club, needed hospital treatment after the attack in the early hours of 1 September last year in the city's upmarket Ashton Lane.

Lennon, 37, had been out in the west end following his side's defeat to Old Firm rivals Rangers.

Carrigan and Whitelaw, who told the court they were Rangers fans, did not deny getting into a fight with Lennon, but claimed he was the initial aggressor.

They alleged that the football coach started the fight after Carrigan asked him if he enjoyed the day's game.

Jailing the men for two years each, Sheriff Martin Jones said: "You have been convicted of a vicious, brutal and cowardly attack on an innocent member of the public who was making his way home in the early hours of the morning in Ashton Lane.

"That is an area popular with the public, where they should feel safe, and such an attack should be viewed seriously."

Describing the attack on Lennon, he said: "He was curled up, trying to protect himself and offering no resistance.

"At some stage during this mindless attack the complainer was rendered unconscious.

"Once it ended you left the complainer lying on the ground and you made your escape.

"The complainer was fortunate that he did not receive more serious injuries given the ferocity of the assault."

The court heard that Whitelaw had 16 previous convictions including a sentence of six years in 1993 in relation to drugs charges.

Carrigan has eight previous convictions including a five-year sentence in 2003 in relation to Misuse of Drugs Act charges.

The pair had denied assaulting Lennon.

Whitelaw lodged a special defence of self-defence, while Carrigan lodged a special defence of provocation, both of which were rejected.

Earlier in the trial, bar worker Liam Cameron, 24, told the court that the men apparently mocked Lennon about his side's defeat that day to Old Firm rivals Rangers and insulted his hair colour.

The men called Mr Lennon a "ginger c***", Mr Cameron added.

He said Lennon raised his middle finger to the two men before fighting erupted.

Mr Cameron turned a corner to find Lennon "face to face" with one of the men, before the former Celtic captain was punched to the ground.

He said: "Neil Lennon went down backwards, his shoe came off. He hit his head on the cobbles when he went down."

This left him "completely, completely unconscious", the bar worker said.

Lennon, giving evidence in the case, said the only thing he remembered was waking up in the west end.

Sentencing Whitelaw and Carrigan, Sheriff Jones said: "The complainer was assaulted by both of you, while acting together, and after he had been punched to the ground and was lying defenceless there, you repeatedly kicked him about his head and body at a time when, as described by one witness, he was curled up trying to protect himself and offering no resistance."

He told Whitelaw and Carrigan that after the attack they left the scene "with no concern for your victim and no appreciation for the possible consequences of your action".

Sentence on Whitelaw was backdated to September 25, 2008, the date he was taken into custody, while Carrigan's sentence was backdated to January 13, 2009, the date his bail was withdrawn.

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan said: "I think it's a relief for Neil that it's all over. It's not been a good week for him.

"To be in a court in any situation is not good fun.

"It wasn't his doing. He had to be there, so I think it has been a great relief this morning when the verdict came through."

Midfielder Lennon was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, in 1971 and signed his first professional contract with Manchester City at the age of 18.

Having made his name at Leicester City, where he won the League Cup in 1997 and 2000, he was signed by Celtic for £5.75m.

Lennon became part of the Celtic side that won five titles in seven seasons and reached the final of the Uefa Cup. He was made captain in 2005.

In 2007 he moved to Nottingham Forest, but after retiring from the game returned to Parkhead as first team coach.

Lennon won 39 caps for Northern Ireland, but announced his shock retirement from international football in 2002 after claiming he had received death threats from an Ulster paramilitary group.