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Soccer Fan Attacks Prosecutor After Conviction

May 2, 1996 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ A soccer fan attacked a prosecutor in a courtroom today after being convicted of provoking star Eric Cantona into kicking him during a match.

Matthew Simmons grabbed prosecutor Jeffrey McCann in a headlock and shouted he was innocent of provoking Cantona.

Simmons, 21, was found guilty by Croydon magistrates of two charges of using threatening words and behavior towards Cantona during a game between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Jan. 25, 1995.

Simmons went for McCann as the prosecutor was asking the three-member magistrates panel for an order banning the fan from soccer grounds.

As McCann began to speak, Simmons jumped over a bench and grabbed the prosecutor from behind.

``I am innocent,″ Simmons shouted. ``I promise. I swear on the Bible.″

Six policemen and two custody officers sought to restrain Simmons, who lunged towards the press gallery and shouted, ``You scum.″

Simmons was eventually led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Later, Simmons’ lawyer, Adam Davis, offered his client’s apology to McCann and the court.

``I am content to accept his apology,″ said the 56-year-old McCann, prosecuting his final case. ``I have no intention of pressing charges. I am not injured in any way and I have no further comment.″

Simmons, looking contrite, sat in the glass-enclosed dock flanked by police.

For the conviction in the Cantona incident, Simmons faces a maximum punishment of six months in jail or a fine of $7,500.

Simmons could also face further sanctions for the court-room outburst.

Cantona, the United striker from France , was leaving the field after being ejected for a foul when he suddenly vaulted over the advertising hoardings and drove his feet into Simmons’ chest, then punched him twice.

The prosecution said Simmons ran down 11 rows and taunted Cantona with obscene gestures and words, including epithets referring to his French heritage.

For the Cantona incident, the magistrates fined Simmons $750 and ordered him to pay $300 in legal costs. The maximum punishment could have been six months in jail or a $7,500 fine.

Simmons was sentenced to seven days in jail for contempt of court for his assault on the prosecutor.

The magistrates also issued an order banning Simmons from all soccer matches in England and Wales for one year.

Simmons, from south London, took the stand Tuesday and denied making any offensive remarks or gestures. He said that he only shouted, ``Off, off, off.″

Cantona did not testify in the trial.

In March last year, Cantona was sentenced to two weeks jail, later reduced on appeal to 120 hours community service, after he admitted assaulting Simmons.

Cantona also was banned for eight months by the English Football Association, fined $45,000 by the FA and his club and also was dropped as captain of the French national team.