Terry, 31, had faced a fine of as much as 2,500 pounds and possible sanctions from English soccer’s governing body over the accusation he called Ferdinand a “f---ing black c---.”
Judge Howard Riddle made the ruling today after a four-day trial at a London criminal court. Terry, one of English soccer’s most well-known players, testified during the trial he used the words only to repeat something he thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying.
“Nobody has been able to show that he is lying,” Riddle said of Terry in the ruling. The judge said it is “highly unlikely” that Ferdinand accused him of using the racial insult, but “it is possible that Mr. Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made.”
The case shook English soccer from the moment footage of the alleged abuse first surfaced minutes after Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to QPR on Oct. 23, 2011. Fabio Capello quit as coach of England’s soccer team in February, when the Football Association stripped Terry of the national team captaincy after an appeal by Chelsea to delay the trial until after the end of the Premier League soccer season.
“He has consistently explained his position to the FA, to the police and to the court,” Terry’s lawyers said in a statement. “He did not racially abuse Mr. Ferdinand and the court has accepted this.”
Terry didn’t speak to reporters after the hearing.
Bruce Buck, the chairman of Chelsea, said he is “pleased that John can now put his mind to football.”
The dispute started after the players collided going for the ball, and turned into an altercation after Ferdinand felt Terry had tried to cheat to win a penalty. The men exchanged profanities and then Ferdinand said he gestured at Terry, cursed again, and referenced an affair Terry had with former teammate Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend.
Terry, who earns as much as 150,000 pounds ($233,000) per week, denied a suggestion that he reacted to the reference to the affair. He said he’s faced abuse on a “weekly” basis from rival fans and players since a judge in 2010 lifted an injunction against reporting details of the affair.
Terry said he heard Ferdinand say, “calling me a black c-- -?” to him and thought he was accusing him of already having made the comment. Terry repeated it back in a sarcastic way and added an additional insult, he testified.
Ferdinand said he didn’t realize Terry had racially abused him during the game or when Chelsea defender Ashley Cole called him to speak with Terry in the away team locker room after the match. He said he’d agreed with Terry that a racial epithet wasn’t directed at him because he hadn’t heard or seen it until a former girlfriend used her mobile phone to show him a video of the incident posted on the Internet after the match, and after he’d spoken to Terry.
Ferdinand didn’t make the initial complaint to police.
Cole, during testimony in the case, denied the claim he concocted a cover story with Terry in the locker room immediately after and said he saw Ferdinand mouth the words either “black” or “Bridge’s.” Cole said he was about a car length away from Terry when he shouted back at Ferdinand but didn’t hear what was said.
Terry’s explanation is “unlikely,” and “not the most obvious response,” having been “sandwiched between other undoubted insults,” Riddle said. It is possible Ferdinand did hear Terry’s insult and didn’t want to take the matter any further, the judge said.
The case began when an off-duty police officer complained about the video footage from the game showing Terry using the insulting words. Terry didn’t dispute that he made the comment.
“It was our view that this was not ‘banter’ on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court,” Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, said after the judgment. The 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.”
The FA had started an inquiry into the incident before suspending it when the criminal case began. The soccer body “will now seek to conclude its own enquiries,” it said in a statement today.
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