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UK soccer player John Terry not guilty of racist abuse

From Jonathan Wald, CNN
updated 2:50 AM EDT, Sat July 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The English Football Association says it will "seek to conclude" its own inquiries
  • Terry is found not guilty of racially abusing fellow soccer player Anton Ferdinand
  • Prosecutors defend the decision to bring the case to trial
  • "We are pleased that John can now focus on football," Chelsea Football Club says

London (CNN) -- John Terry, one of England's biggest soccer stars, was found not guilty Friday of racially abusing fellow soccer player Anton Ferdinand, ending a high-profile trial in London.

Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle said of Terry: "No one has been able to show that he is lying."

Reading his ruling, Riddle said it was a crucial fact that no one heard what Terry said.

Terry, the Chelsea captain, sat impassively in the courtroom as the verdict was read out at Westminster Magistrates' Court. It was greeted by cheers from the public gallery.

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Riddle said he accepted it was possible that Terry himself thought Ferdinand had accused him of using racial abuse.

John Terry cleared of racial abuse
John Terry made his Chelsea debut as a substitute against Aston Villa in 1998. After a short loan spell with second-tier Nottingham Forest, Terry established himself in the Chelsea first team during the 2000-01 English Premier League season. John Terry made his Chelsea debut as a substitute against Aston Villa in 1998. After a short loan spell with second-tier Nottingham Forest, Terry established himself in the Chelsea first team during the 2000-01 English Premier League season.
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But he also said he considered it "highly unlikely" that Ferdinand had accused Terry of calling him a "black c---."

Terry, who has received strong backing from Chelsea Football Club throughout the trial, left the court without addressing the public or media.

A statement issued on behalf of Terry by his legal team said he had been acquitted of all charges.

"He did not racially abuse Mr. Ferdinand and the court has accepted this. John would like to thank his legal team for their hard work and his family, friends and Chelsea Football Club for their support," the statement said.

Chelsea's chairman, Bruce Buck, welcomed the verdict, saying: "We at Chelsea are pleased that John Terry can now put his mind back to football."

The football club also said it respects the magistrate's decision to clear Terry.

"We are pleased that John can now focus on football and his preseason preparations with the team," it said in a statement on the official Chelsea website.

The English Football Association, which could still open its own disciplinary proceedings against Terry, said it noted the court's verdict and would "now seek to conclude its own enquiries."

Alison Saunders, chief crown prosecutor for London, defended the decision to bring the case to trial.

"The very serious allegation at the heart of this case was one of racial abuse. It was our view that this was not 'banter' on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court," she said in a prepared statement.

"The chief magistrate agreed that Mr. Terry had a case to answer, but having heard all of the evidence he acquitted Mr. Terry of a racially aggravated offense. That is justice being done and we respect the chief magistrate's decision."

The weeklong trial, during which the normally staid chambers got an earful of shockingly foul language, gripped the British press.

Terry, who was captain of the England national team at the time of the incident, was accused of calling Ferdinand, who plays for Queens Park Rangers, a "f------ black c---" as the pair traded insults during a game last October.

Terry did not deny directing a barrage of foul language at Ferdinand and referring to him as "black," but he denied engaging in racist abuse.

He told the court that he was repeating what he mistakenly thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying.

The highly unusual criminal prosecution over words uttered on a soccer field comes as English soccer officials fight to stamp racism out of the sport, with mixed results.

Lord Herman Ouseley, the chairman of UK football's anti-racism campaign, Kick It Out, said it would wait to hear the conclusions of the Football Association with regard to the Terry case.

"It will be interesting to hear from other organizations this will impact on, from governing bodies to leagues and clubs, and how they deem matters like this to be dealt with in the future," he said in a statement.

Terry was stripped of his England captaincy after a preliminary court hearing on the racism charge in February.

CNN's Matthew Chance and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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