Calls to dismiss case against fans accused of attacking referee on Croke Park pitch

Lawyers at Dublin District Court have asked a judge to dismiss the case of two Louth men accused of attacking a referee after the controversial 2010 Leinster football final because he has withdrawn his complaint.

Martin Sludden had been confronted by Louth fans after he allowed a goal to Meath in the closing seconds of the match at Croke Park. The Tyrone-based referee later admitted he was wrong to award the score, which cost Louth the Leinster Championship.

Joseph Conlon, aged 23, of Marlbog Rd, Haggards-town, Dundalk, and Paul Grimes, aged 50, with an address at Willowdale Bay Estate, Dundalk, have denied charges of assaulting Sludden on July 11, 2010.

Yesterday, Judge Bridget Reilly heard that Mr Sludden had initially made a complaint to gardaí but later withdrew it, and the prosecution was relying on video evidence.

Footage obtained from the RTÉ sports department was viewed in court and showed supporters pouring onto the pitch and remonstrating with Mr Sludden seconds after the final whistle.

They also showed he was pushed and jostled by Louth fans. Two Louth-based gardaí told Judge Reilly they recognised the two defendants after they saw coverage of the game.

Garda Ser-geant Shay Roche, of Mountjoy station, was on duty for the final. He told Judge Reilly a large number of supporters were acting “erratically” on the pitch.

He brought Mr Conlon to the players’ tunnel to record his details. He said Mr Conlon was agitated and gave an incorrect address before he was walked out of Croke Park.

On a later date, Gda Sgt Roche interviewed him and showed him the footage; Mr Conlon identified himself in the video and said: “I saw myself pushing the referee. I had no intention of doing anything to the referee except telling him what I thought.”

Garda Sergeant PJ Reynolds said a number of players and supporters were on the pitch remonstrating with the referee. Mr Sludden began running and “my duty of care was to get him off the pitch”.

Lawyers for the defendants ask-ed the judge to dismiss the case. They argued that under section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act, the prosecution needed to prove the complainant did not give consent for force to be used against him. They argued the alleged injured party needed to give that evidence but had withdrawn his complaint and was not present for the hearing.

Michael Durkan, for the State, argued the case could proceed; the court could note events shown in the television footage, the demeanour of the referee and that he ran off the pitch.

The judge adjourned the case to March to consider the defence argument.

“Logic and common sense might say one thing, the law could say something quite different and I want matters to be plain and full consideration to be given,” she said.

The State has withdrawn their prosecution of a third man: Dermot Rodgers, aged 44, of Belfry Gardens, St Alphonsus Rd, Dundalk, who also pleaded not guilty to assaulting the referee.

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