Young ref calls foul on justice system

A YOUNG referee who was allegedly assaulted by a parent at a youth football match has told of his disgust after legal proceedings against his suspected attacker were withdrawn on a technicality.

A YOUNG referee who was allegedly assaulted by a parent at a youth football match has told of his disgust after legal proceedings against his suspected attacker were withdrawn on a technicality.

Police took 10 months to arrest the man suspected of assaulting 18-year-old Jonathan Pritchard – only for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to decide the case could not go ahead.

The CPS said because more than six months had gone by since the alleged offence, they could not take action against the alleged attacker.

But Mr Pritchard, who claims he was knocked to the ground after refereeing an under-11s match, said: "Why did they take so long to arrest him, and why did they bother to do so if the time limit had run out? I'm annoyed to say the least."

The teenager, who is paid just a few pounds to referee matches, claimed he was attacked after blowing the final whistle on a match between Needham Phoenix and Stow Falcons on March 31 last year.

He said: "I was knocked to the ground and it was very painful."

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But despite more than 40 witnesses to the incident, at Crowley Park in Needham Market, police did not charge the man suspected of the offence until January 17 this year.

But the referee, who works as a leisure assistant at Whitton Sports Centre in Ipswich, was horrified to receive a letter from the CPS saying the charge of common assault had been withdrawn.

Crown Prosecutor Adele Cook said in the letter: "In cases of common assault, the offence must be charged against the defendant within six months of the incident in question.

"Therefore the charge was outside of the six month time limit. Accordingly, there was no alternative other than to withdraw the charge when the matter came to court.

"I appreciate that you may be disappointed with the outcome of this case."

Mr Pritchard, of Wingfield Meadows, Stonham Aspal, said: "It just doesn't add up at all and it does not send out the right message. I would feel like saying 'don't waste your time'."

He added that abuse, especially from players' parents, was becoming unbearable at youth matches and was forcing more and more young referees to quit the game.

"In 10 years' time there will be no youth football because they will be no referees. I started a course with 15 lads and there are just two of us left. Half gave up within six months because they had enough," he said.

"I would like to show people how stupid and ridiculous it is getting. I would be willing to take a video camera to a game so they can see the sort of abuse we get."

Insp Jon Brighton, of Suffolk police, said: "Unfortunately the suspect for this offence appeared to be out of the country for a period of time, and when he was subsequently arrested, we were informed by the CPS that they are unable to prosecute this due to the magistrates' court rule.

"I personally took this up with the criminal justice unit to say how unhappy I was about this and I shall be asking the unit to contact the victim to explain more fully."

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