Burnley fan Nathan Higgins, 19, and his father Stewart, 53, (pictured outside Brighton Magistrates Court today) were accused of using the N-word and ‘black b******’ in a racist tirade towards Brighton striker Gaetan Bong
The trial of a father and son accused of hurling homophobic and racist abuse at a Premier League football game collapsed due to a lack of evidence.
Burnley fan Stewart Higgins, 53, was accused of using the N-word and the term ‘black b******’ in a racist tirade towards Brighton striker Gaetan Bong.
He and his son Nathan, 19, were also alleged to have used a homophobic slur to shout at Brighton fans in the stands at the Amex Stadium on February 9.
When questioned by a home fan, Higgins senior said: ‘We’re not racist. It’s banter – it’s just football,’ Brighton Magistrates Court heard earlier today.
But the pair walked free this afternoon after the Crown Prosecution Service failed to produce vital bodycam footage from police officers at the match.
Maria Higgins, defending, said that without the vital evidence it would be impossible for the case to proceed as the pair would not get a fair trial.
She said: ‘The interests of justice have to be weighed.
‘The evidence should have been disclosed. It’s paramount the balance of justice is weighed equally. This is a serious failure.’
Dominic Dudkowski, prosecuting, apologised for the failure to produce the bodycam footage and said it was a serious oversight though he insisted the Crown Prosecution Service had not tried to manipulate the evidence.
During the trial it emerged that police bodycam footage of the pair which was thought to have been destroyed earlier was actually available.
Dominic Dudkowski, prosecuting, said a DVD of the footage was available but said the case would have to be adjourned as it could not be brought to the court immediately.
But the footage had neither been disclosed to the prosecution or the defence and as a result the case was stayed.
Chair of the bench, Chris Bell, said: ‘There are serious failing in bringing the evidence in this case.
‘We’re not prepared to adjourn this trial . We find, in the round, given these failings, the defendants would not receive a fair trial. We take the exceptional steps therefore in staying these proceedings.’
Nathan, 19, (right) and his father Stewart Higgins, 53, (left) were also alleged to have used a homophobic slur to shout at Brighton fans in the stands at the Amex Stadium on February 9.
The court was told earlier today that when the incident is alleged to have happened, Bong had already accused a Burnley player of racially abusing him at another match.
Mr Dudkowski said before the match kicked off, another Burnley fan, Nicholas Ball, heard the two men shouting homophobic insults at Brighton fans.
Mr Ball, who was sitting two seats away from Higgins Senior, said he heard him repeatedly shouting ‘b*****s’.
Mr Dudkowski added: ‘The witness also heard the son shouting ‘b*****s’ a lot towards the home fans but the son was also heard to shout: ‘black b*****d’ and ‘n******’ towards a particular player, namely Gaetan Bong.
‘This was racist abuse and it was used repeatedly by the son towards that player. It continued for at least 10 minutes.’
The court was told the insults continued for some time before he finally lost his patience and challenged them.
Mr Dudkowski said: ‘He said: ‘Don’t use homophobic or racist language’ and told them it was illegal and a hate crime.’
But Magistrates heard both men turned to him and told him: ‘We’re not racist. It’s banter – it’s just football.’
Mr Dudkowski said: ‘Unfortunately the abuse continued and when the match reached half time the father challenged Mr Ball by taking him by the arm.’
Magistrates were told Higgins Senior told him to mind his own business adding: ‘I was just telling you what I used to say in the 70s.’
Mr Ball replied: ‘That was about 50 years ago.’ The court heard Higgins Senior then said: ‘You need to get over yourself.’
Mr Ball attracted the attention of the steward and both Higgins Senior and Higgins Junior were taken away and later arrested by police.
Giving evidence Mr Ball said: ‘I felt scared for my own safety. I asked him to leave me alone but he seemed angered by my intervention.
‘I was worried he might hit me. One steward came up to see what was going on. The steward got in between me and older offender.’
At an earlier hearing both men pleaded not guilty to using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress
The court heard both Higgins Senior and his so were then led away by stewards and later arrested.
Mr Ball told the court he had been attending the match with his wife Suzanna and had warned her beforehand there might be homophobic abuse.
But he said the level of abuse from both men was repeated and he felt compelled to challenge them.
He told the court: ‘I asked them to stop. I encouraged them to focus on the match – they seemed more interested in shouting at the Brighton fans.’
Mr Ball, who has campaigned on behalf of Stonewall’s attempts to rid football of homophobia, said he felt compelled to take action and confront the men before alerting stewards.
He added: ‘It completely ruined the day for me. I haven’t been to a Burnley game again and I’m not sure I will again.
‘I’m concerned about being confronted by them or their friends as they were with a big group.’
At an earlier hearing both men pleaded not guilty to using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
Higgins junior also pleaded not guilty to using racially aggravated threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
Higgins junior (pictured right with his father left) also pleaded not guilty to using racially aggravated threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress