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Prison sentence for attacking referee

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James Barnett, 25, from West Drayton was sentenced to 1 year in prison for head butting a referee and repeatedly kicking him at a 6 a-side match in Berkshire in July 2012.

The Football Association said it was delighted with the sentence and a spokesman said "this sends out a strong message that assaults on referees will not be tolerated". 

This matter comes amongst the more high profile recent events involving players and referees alike involved in Premier League football.

The incident arose as a result of a game in Bracknell on 2 July 2012 when the 27 year old referee officiating suffered cuts and bruises to his face and body and needed surgery to have teeth removed.  The player launched the attack upon him having been given a red card following an argument reported to be over the colour of the referee's shirt. 

The Football Association said its Respect programme had meant that the number of serious assaults on match officials had declined over the past few years.  However, despite the reduction in these sorts of offences the FA has said that "in isolated cases such as this, the FA will look to exclude individuals from playing again".

Craig Davies from Pitch Invasion a group backed by the FA who organised the game in question said that "it shows that football is not a place for violence and aggressive behaviour.  The referee is back working in a 6 a-side league and we shall continue giving him, and all the other match officials, the support they need to ensure that games are played in a safe and enjoyable environment".

Mr Barnett had admitted a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) and appeared before Reading Crown Court on 26 October 2012 for sentencing.  After the sentencing hearing a police spokesperson said "I hope it shows how mindless violent assaults such as this will not go unpunished and are taken very seriously by both the police and courts.  Barnett took out his frustration by carrying out an unprovoked and reckless assault on the victim which could have easily been more serious".

In passing this sentence for an offence of ABH it shows that the court must have categorised this offence in the top sentencing bracket for cases of ABH where the sentencing range is between 1 and 3 years imprisonment depending on any aggravating or mitigating factors made known to the court.  It would apply to those cases where the most serious injuries within the ABH bracket are present and a high degree of responsibility for the incident lies with the offender.  The sentencing guidelines council issue sentencing guidelines for a number of offences and state that amongst other matters an aggravating feature of ABH can be 'use of a weapon or weapon equivalent (for example, shod foot, head butting,...)' and that this would put the offender in the highest sentencing bracket.

The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.