A number of lawyers have offered their views on this case, with John Scott QC risibly claiming, if you weren’t sitting in court, you weren’t really able to offer a view of the verdict.
It is important to understand the facts of what occurred in the Sheriff Court.
1. John Wilson was seen by millions of viewers around the world running on the pitch at Tynecastle, running towards Neil Lennon and charging and lunging at him.
2. No witness who said Neil Lennon was assaulted was challenged in any way by the defence that their account was not accurate.
3. John Wilson gave evidence to the effect he assaulted Neil Lennon and admitted striking him on the head.
4. He wrote a letter to Neil Lennon apologising for attacking him.
5. Defence Counsel informed the court the only issue in dispute in the trial was whether John Wilson had made some hate-filled remarks.
6. Defence Counsel explained to the jury his client had offered to plead guilty both to the breach of the peace charge and the assault on Neil Lennon subject to the deletion of the aggravating factor of religious hatred.
Against that background the jury returned a verdict of guilty of breach of the peace under deletion of the aggravating factor but acquitted him completely of the assault charge, which he had already acknowledged he was guilty of. No amount of legal spin can explain how a jury could acquit of an assault in these circumstances, whether one is present in the court or not.
Some have suggested the Crown was to blame because the jury must have been confused about the aggravating factors of religious hatred. Such an approach is an insult to the jury and indeed to the Crown.
For the avoidance of any doubt this was an impeccably presented Crown case by an experienced and talented procurator fiscal who got the accused to admit under cross-examination that he committed the crime of assault.
The jury clearly understood they could delete part of a charge they did not consider had been proved – which explains why they returned a verdict of guilty of breach of the peace under deletion of the aggravation.
As the prosecution was in possession of clear evidence John Wilson had called Lennon a “Fenian bastard”, it would have been astonishing, and no doubt the subject of much criticism, if they had not proceeded to prosecute this case with the aggravating factors in the charges.
Accordingly, the verdict of the jury is inexplicable and no legal or lay observer can reconcile the verdict with the facts.
All that having been said, the decision was theirs and it has to be recognised the decision is final.
Some have suggested because of this verdict there is no point in trying to toughen our approach to hate crime in Scotland in the form of the proposed offensive behaviour bill to come before Parliament again in January. I profoundly disagree with that assessment.
The current Lord Advocate has tried to stamp out sectarianism, homophobia and racism from our country. He has been hugely successful in doing so but, because of indifference and myopia from many institutions in this country in the past, religious and sectarian hatred is the hardest nut of all to crack.
Unlike the Labour coalition governments in the Scottish Parliaments in the past, this current SNP Government is determined to tackle the problem head on. The First Minister Alex Salmond and Roseanna Cunningham [Community Safety Minister] are attempting to make their vision of a modern Scotland as a place free of hate crime a reality. It is obvious legislation alone will never be sufficient as education, deprivation and cultural influences all play their part.
However, legislation has always been another tool in the criminal justice system to allow the police to root out and deal with the worst offenders so a powerful message is sent to others that in a modern, potentially independent, Scotland in the near future behaviour like this is unacceptable.The First Minister, Roseanna Cunningham and the Lord Advocate must be given, by the Scottish Parliament, full support to deal with this scourge in our society.