Schoolgirl footballer faces prosecution over pitch attack

Belfast High Court Building
Belfast High Court Building

A schoolgirl footballer accused of attacking an opponent failed yesterday in a new legal bid to avoid being prosecuted.

Northern Ireland’s most senior judge rejected her challenge to being denied an alternative diversionary disposal of her case.

The girl, who cannot be identified, issued judicial review proceedings against the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) over allegations that she inflicted grievous bodily harm on the pitch.

She plays for a female team who had their match abandoned in May 2012 following an incident, where she was accused of striking a player from the other side.

During police interview the girl, then aged 16, admitted punching the opponent but denied kicking her in the face while she was on the ground – something the victim claimed was witnessed by others too.

She showed remorse, stating she did not mean to inflict the level of injury involved.

In September last year High Court judges quashed a decision that the case was not suitable for diversionary disposal and directed that the PPS should reconsider it; something the PPS agreed with after revisiting the case.

Counsel for the girl mounted a fresh legal challenge, arguing the PPS wrongly took into account her limited admissions in reaching its decision.

It was further contended in Belfast’s High Court that prosecutors had erred in concluding the girl’s denial of the kick significantly undermined the effectiveness of a youth conference initiative – a scheme which encourages a perpetrator to recognise the effects of their crime and take responsibility for their actions.

But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justice Coghlin, identified no flaws in the PPS approach.

Factors which backed prosecuting the case included the harm inflicted to the victim.