BARCELONA – A football fan cleared of a pitchside assault on Celtic manager Neil Lennon was jailed on Wednesday for eight months for a breach of the peace at the match and handed a five-year football banning order.
John Wilson, 26, was accused of a sectarian attack on Lennon as his side played Hearts in a crucial Clydesdale Bank Premier League game at Tynecastle on May 11.
A jury at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last month found the charge against the unemployed labourer was not proven.
The verdict came despite Wilson telling the court that he had lunged at Lennon and struck him on the head in an incident he claimed was not of a sectarian nature.
Celtic said the acquittal was "difficult to comprehend".
Hearts fan Wilson, from Edinburgh, was convicted of carrying out a breach of the peace during the game, after the jury deleted an allegation that the offence was aggravated by religious prejudice.
Television viewers looked on as Wilson invaded the pitch and charged towards Lennon during the match earlier this year. The incident unfolded after Celtic went two goals up.
At the trial, the jury of eight men and seven women took two and a half hours to find Wilson guilty of conducting himself in a disorderly manner, running on to the pitch, running at the away team dugout, shouting, swearing, causing disturbance to the crowd and breaching the peace.
The court previously heard claims, denied by Wilson, that he had called Lennon a "fenian b******" at the game.
But he was cleared of making a sectarian remark during the incident after jurors deleted the allegation from the breach of the peace charge.
Wilson said he had called Lennon a "f****** w*****".
The jury also cleared Wilson of assaulting Lennon, following the three-day trial, despite the accused admitting in open court that he had lunged at the Celtic manager, struck him on the head and assaulted him.
He had also tried to plead guilty to the assault at an earlier stage in the court proceedings, if the allegation that the incident was aggravated by religious prejudice was removed. Prosecutors rejected his plea and the case went before a jury.
The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, subsequently defended the Crown's decision to prosecute Wilson for alleged sectarian remarks.
Giving evidence on the first day of the trial, Lennon told the court that the pitchside incident followed a season which saw him sent bullets and a suspicious device.
He said: "It took the gloss off the team's performance and I knew the headlines would be about me again, rather than the team, and that really disappointed me."
Lennon said Hearts versus Celtic games are "more raucous than usual" but this particular game in May "had a bit more of an edge to it" with a lot of abuse coming from the stands.
During his evidence, the court heard that the atmosphere in the ground after the match was "very tense" and "quite intimidating".
Lennon said the incident left him "angry after all the stuff that had happened to me previously".
He told the court: "Packages have been sent in the past. A 24-hour armed guard outside my house. Police protection. My house has been refitted with new security alarms and systems and all that sort of thing.
"I was sent viable devices in the post. I was sent bullets in the post."
Wilson, who has three previous convictions for breach of the peace, told the court the incident must have been "awful" for Lennon and said he had written a letter of apology to him.
Celtic said at the time of the verdict: "It is for the jury to decide on this case. However, we find the accused's acquittal of the charge of assault difficult to comprehend bearing in mind our knowledge of the incident.
"One thing is clear - this was a disgraceful incident involving Neil Lennon, seen by the world, the sort of incident which should not have happened in any football stadium and one which embarrassed Scottish football."
The sentence was backdated to May 12 - the date Wilson was taken into custody. He has spent more than four months behind bars.
Sheriff Fiona Reith QC told Wilson he was convicted of a "serious" crime amid a "highly volatile" atmosphere in a crowd of more than 16,000 football supporters.
She told him: "The football match was a high profile game between Celtic and Hearts. There was evidence that there was a 'terrible', 'very tense' and 'poisonous' atmosphere in the stadium between both sets of supporters, with racist and sectarian shouting and chanting coming from supporters.
"The atmosphere got even worse after a Hearts player was sent off and then when Celtic scored a second goal in the second half of the game.
"It was just after this that you ran on to the field of play and committed the breach of the peace of which you have been convicted."
She said one police officer told the court that the whole stadium then "erupted" after Wilson's actions.
She said: "He described how extreme antagonism between both sets of supporters of a bigoted, sectarian nature 'really kicked off', as he put it. He described the atmosphere at this point as being very, very volatile and he feared a pitch incursion as the crowd was angry.
"A breach of the peace can sometimes be a quite minor crime but sometimes it is not. In this case it was not minor at all. It was serious, and with serious potential consequences in the context of what was already a highly volatile atmosphere in the crowd of over 16,000 football supporters."
The sheriff said a custodial sentence was the only appropriate one in light of the "nature and gravity" of the offence.
"It has to be clearly understood by you and others that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated and will be punished, and punished firmly, by the courts," she told Wilson.
Sheriff Reith said Wilson would have been jailed for 12 months had he not offered to plead guilty to the charge at an early stage.
The court also handed Wilson a football banning order for five years from today. The order prevents him from attending any regulated football matches in the UK during that period.
Various conditions are attached to the order, including a requirement that Wilson checks in with police within five days of his release from jail.