HOSTILITIES in so-called ‘hate corner’ at a Wrexham v Chester rival derby game have been highlighted in a courtroom.
Five Wrexham football fans, including a father and son, went on trial yesterday at the town’s magistrates’ court
District Judge Andrew Shaw was told how the area of the Mold Road Stand, where the defendants were sitting during the match at The Racecourse Ground on August 31, was branded ‘hate corner’.
Outlining the case at a hearing last month, prosecutor Peter Humphrey-Jones described how two offensive banners mocking two dead Chester fans had been displayed at the match, one of whom was said to have committed suicide by hanging himself and the other had fallen from the City Walls.
During the match, Wrexham fans held up the separate banners with the words ‘Two dead fans, one dead club’ and ‘Join Lunty in Hell’.
Fans also made hanging gestures towards the Chester supporters. Camera footage was shown of incidents inside the ground.
Matthew Duncan, 21, of Trevenna Way, Wrexham and Tomos Futcher, 24, of Corkscrew Lane, Ruabon, both deny a public order offence relating to displaying the banner.
Gareth Higgins, 27, of Heol Dirion, Coedpoeth, denies making a hanging gesture towards City fans.
James Gruffydd Jones, 25, of Cristionydd, Penycae, has admitted a public order offence relating to a banner but denies assaulting Artan Hasaj, a matchday steward.
And his father, Alan Gruffydd Jones, 48, of Eighth Avenue, Llay, also denies assaulting Mr Hasaj.
Appearing as a witness yesterday was PC Peter Jones from North Wales Police who said: “The ground was pretty full and the atmosphere was hostile. I was in the away stand at the time, which is when I turned round and saw the banners.”
He said there had been 29 arrests as a result of disorder at the game, with 15 people charged.
Earlier in the day PC Jones was positioned outside the Red Lion pub in Kingsmill, which opened its doors at 7am on the day of the match, where a large number of Wrexham fans gathered.
That was where a large group of fans were pictured before the game with the two banners, although none of the defendants was said to be in the photograph.
PC Jones was cross-examined about policing of the game in which travel restrictions had been placed on Chester fans.
Ceri Evans, defending Higgins and Futcher, asked him whether the description of the area in which the defendants sat as ‘hate corner’ would attract stigma to anyone who was there.
PC Jones said: “Not everyone in that corner. Part of that end was netted off to prevent fans from sitting there but they moved it to be nearer the Chester fans.”
Euros Jones, defending Duncan and both Alan and James Jones, highlighted the behaviour of Chester fans both on days before and during the match.
He said: “Chester fans had desecrated memorial bricks outside and they were shouting racist comments involving sheep.
“They had a banner which had ‘Goatbusters’ and were passing it over their heads.
“Surely that’s racially aggravated disorderly behaviour?”
In response, PC Jones said other officers had been involved in investigating offences at the game, adding: “I can’t answer what other officers did or did not see.”
The steward alleged to have been assaulted, Mr Hasaj, described the atmosphere as “quite scary”.
He said he went into the crowd to help a colleague who appeared to be in danger after attempting to remove one of the banners.
“We went in the first time to remove a banner and the crowd was good as gold.
Another banner was displayed and we were asked to go in again. Paul went in to get the banner and that’s when the disturbance started.
“I saw my colleague was in trouble so I went in to pull him out.
“The crowd was very upset. There was pushing and punching.
“On the day I felt pain in places. When I got up the next day, I was black and bruised on my back.”
Lee Peagram, of Cheshire View, Brymbo, was arrested on the day and later convicted of punching him. After reviewing police camera footage at a later date, Mr Hasaj alleged both Alan and James Jones had also assaulted him.
The prosecution alleged footage showed Alan Jones knee Mr Hasaj to the ribs while his son James punched Mr Hasaj to the back of his head shortly afterwards.
However, watching footage of the alleged incident, Alan Jones said he stumbled as he was on his way through the crowd to try to find his son and he made no contact with Mr Hasaj, who was seen to stumble forward shortly afterwards.
Alan Jones said he walked from the other side of the Mold Road Stand where he was sat with his wife and father-in-law to the corner nearest the Chester fans after he became worried for the safety of his sons after seeing trouble there.
His son James said he had not punched Mr Hasaj. He said the footage showed him trying to put his arm across the steward as he felt he was being aggressive to his dad.
Euros Jones said Mr Hasaj’s initial police statement didn’t mention having any visible injuries and he only mentioned one man assaulting him, that being Mr Peagram.
In response, he said it was because the first statement was on the day of the game.
“I only remembered one person – the person arrested on the day. But I caouldn’t say who the others were until I saw the CCTV,” he said.
Higgins denied the camera footage showed him making a hanging gesture and said he knew nothing of the context of the banners which were displayed at the game. He said he only became aware of what they said later on after he was alleged to have made the gesture.
But cross-examined by Mr Humphrey-Jones, he admitted he had an ‘inkling’ of what the banners were about after seeing fans holding them in the car park of the Red Lion pub before the game.
He added: “I didn’t agree with them so wasn’t interested. As far as I was concerned, I was just chanting.”
Futcher admitted holding the banner which said ‘Come Join Lunty In Hell’ but denied having done so with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress as he claimed he was not aware what it said.
He said: “The banner was unfurled over my head. I wasn’t aware of the content. It was abstract to me.”
He said he became aware of what it said following newspaper reports.
Matthew Duncan admitted holding a banner saying ‘2 Dead Fans and 1 Dead Club’ but claimed he was unaware of its context.
He said: “It was in a scrumpled up mess between the chairs.
“I retrieved it and didn’t know what to do with it. I couldn’t make out what it said or what it was for.”
District Judge Shaw adjourned proceedings to consider his verdicts, which will be delivered tomorrow.