Paul Gascoigne cleared of sexually assaulting woman on train
Gascoigne, 52, was accused of grabbing woman and ‘forcibly, sloppily’ kissing her
Former England footballer Paul Gascoigne (centre left) outside Teesside Crown Court, Middlesbrough, after he was cleared of all charges of sexually assaulting a woman on a train. Photograph: PA
Former England footballer Paul Gascoigne has been found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he kissed on a train.
Gascoigne, 52, was accused of drunkenly grabbing the woman’s face and “forcibly and sloppily” kissing her on the lips on August 20th last year.
After a three-day trial at Teesside crown court in Middlesbrough on Thursday, a jury acquitted the former midfielder of sexual assault and an alternative charge of assault by beating.
Gascoigne put his head in his hands and wept as the verdict was read out, almost three hours after jurors began their deliberations. Leaving the dock he said: “Thank you, your honour; thank you to the jury - and thank you to my dentist.”
The former Newcastle United player had told the court he kissed the woman to “give her some confidence” after, he claimed, she was insulted about her weight by another passenger.
The court heard Gascoigne had been drinking lager on the Birmingham-to-Edinburgh train, with witnesses describing how he was surrounded by empty cans and had offered gin and tonic to other passengers.
Witnesses told the jury his speech was slurred and he had food smeared across his face – he admitted that at one point he had cake on his forehead as he was “messing about” with his teenage nephews.
But the trial centred on whether the kiss was sexual. The judge, Peter Armstrong, told jurors they must be sure beyond reasonable doubt that the kiss was a sexual act or that Gascoigne had a sexual motive in order to find him guilty.
The former Tottenham Hotspur and Everton player insisted the act was not sexual and refused to apologise while giving evidence.
“I was not drunk, I was not forceful, I was not sexual. I was just reacting to the lady getting called fat and ugly,” he told jurors from the witness box.
Gascoigne said he had been posing for photographs with passengers when he overheard someone shout about the complainant: “Why would you want a photo with her for? She’s fat and ugly.”
That was a lie, the prosecution claimed, and there were no witnesses in the trial who said they heard the woman be insulted about her weight, or any to back Gascoigne’s assertion that the complainant took his photo with two women sitting opposite her. In fact, the two women denied they had a picture with the former footballer and told jurors they tried to ignore him.
Giving evidence, Gascoigne described how he had felt moved to “reassure” the woman after the supposed insult because he had experienced bulimia and been criticised for his weight throughout his playing career.
“I was called a fat bastard every time I played,” he said.
Gascoigne’s barrister, Michelle Heeley QC, told jurors the former footballer kissed a woman who was not expecting it and did not like it, but that did not make him a sexual offender.
She said the kiss lasted two or three seconds, on a packed train, and was not preceded by any “lecherous comment”, touching or groping. She told the jury the kiss might have been “misplaced”, but it was not sexual, adding: “You cannot be sure Mr Gascoigne had a sexual intent. He has been consistent throughout, he didn’t kiss [the complainant] for any other reason in his mind than to reassure her that she was not fat or ugly.”
He became briefly emotional when he recalled the death of his nephew Jay Kerrigan, who died from a drugs overdose aged 22 in April 2016 after a long struggle with mental health problems including anorexia.
Although Gascoigne has rarely been away from the headlines over the last two decades, the trial gave a brief insight into the often-chaotic life of the troubled star.
He revealed in court that he had recently had anti-alcohol pellets injected into his stomach - believed to be the same operation George Best had before his death in 2005 - in a new effort to kick the addiction. Gascoigne said since the operation he would automatically “spew” if he drinks spirits but he still drinks lager.
He also disclosed how an assault three years ago had left him with permanently damaged teeth and needing prosthetic dentures, which he at one point removed to demonstrate to the jury why his speech was slurred during the train incident.
While he was cheered on daily by supporters outside the courtroom, the only flash of his celebrity status came during his defence when Heeley showed jurors a four-page montage of him kissing and being kissed by stars including Princess Diana, whose hand he pecked shortly before the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1991 - a game that ended in ignominy for him when he limped off injured after rupturing a cruciate ligament with a shocking high tackle, leaving him in tears while his teammates collected the trophy.
Gascoigne’s former agent Mel Stein and the boxing stars Ricky Hatton and Jane Couch gave glowing character testimonies for the defence, describing how their friend was naturally tactile and would give anyone a hug and kiss but, said Couch, “you wouldn’t take it the wrong way”.
The prosecution tried unsuccessfully to have Gascoigne’s past crimes read to the jury, arguing that his convictions for offences including battery, criminal damage, drink-driving and religiously-aggravated harassment “brought some balance” to a character reference by Gascoigne’s longtime friend and former counsellor Paul Spanjar, who described him as “one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, a natural carer and a very honest and straight guy”.
In the end, the jury of eight men and four women were not told about Gascoigne’s previous convictions and they decided they could not find him guilty of sexual assault or assault by beating. – Guardian