THE TRIAL of two of England's most promising footballers on charges that they beat an Asian student unconscious collapsed yesterday after a judge ruled that a newspaper article could unfairly prejudice the case against them.
The collapse of the pounds 8m trial of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate after 39 days at Hull Crown Court means they face a possible retrial. The trial judge, Mr Justice Poole, who did little to disguise his fury, also referred a possible contempt case against the Sunday Mirror - which published a two-page interview with the alleged victim's father on Sunday - to the Attorney General.
The jury of seven men and four women had deliberated for 21 hours over three days after hearing eight weeks of evidence before the offending article was presented to the judge yesterday morning.
The interview with Muhammad Najeib, the father of Sarfraz and Shahzad who were both beaten in the alleged attack on 11 January last year, centred on Mr Najeib's belief that the decision not to prosecute it as a racially motivated offence was flawed.
It also suggested that the evidence of the Leeds defender Michael Duberry, which implicated Mr Woodgate in the assault, was accurate.
The family lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, saying they were promised the article would appear only after the case was over.
The suggestions that the alleged attack was racially motivated was of particular concern to the judge, who had specifically advised the jury in his summing up that there was no evidence to support such a view. The report's timing during jury deliberations, also convinced Mr Justice Poole of "a clear and substantial risk of prejudice.
"For 10 weeks and many months before that, all interested parties have been striving for justice for the victim, the victim's family and the defendants who have entitlement to a fair trial," he said. "This jury has applied itself, countless witnesses have attended to their considerable inconvenience. The result is that for now all that is derailed. Justice cannot be done in the sort of atmosphere created by the publication."
He allowed his ruling to be printed today to underline …