Championship footballer Darius Henderson cleared after altercation in St Albans restaurant

Darius Henderson outside St Albans crown court

Darius Henderson outside St Albans crown court - Credit: John O'Reilly/South Beds News Ag

A Championship footballer cried in the dock today (Thursday) after he was cleared of causing grievous bodily harm to a man during a New Year celebration at a St Albans restaurant.

At St Albans Crown Court the jury unanimously cleared Nottingham Forest striker Darius Henderson, 32, of inflicting grievous bodily harm on John Bell on January 1, 2012.

He had previously pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The footballer, from Markyate, said he was acting in self defence when he threw two punches at Mr Bell, who suffered a fractured cheek bone and cut to his eye socket while at the former Darcys Restaurant, Hatfield Road.

Mr Henderson’s evening out with his then girlfriend Lucy Caplan was ruined when they were confronted by a woman who repeatedly claimed she had sex with him.

Before the start of his trial in St Albans the judge asked potential jurors if they were active supporters of, or had allegiance against Watford, Millwall or Nottingham Forest – Mr Henderson’s previous teams and his current side.

It was the third time a jury had been called to hear the case. On the first occasion a witness was unavailable and on the second the jury could not reach a verdict.

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Prosecutor Alan Richards said Mr Henderson and Miss Caplan had enjoyed a meal at Darcys before going into the bar where they encountered 48-year-old Hazel Kent.

She was not known to either the footballer, his then girlfriend or Mr Bell, his partner John Lavelle and two women friends, who were also in the bar.

Mr Richards said Ms Kent was “responsible for sowing seeds of tension.”

He went on: “For reasons best known to herself, Ms Kent behaved somewhat unpleasantly towards Mr Henderson and Miss Caplan, asserting on more than one occasion, in Miss Caplan’s presence, that she had recently had sex with Mr Henderson.

“Ms Kent claimed that she could describe Mr Henderson’s home in Markyate and correctly identified the brand of his boxer shorts.

“Understandably this upset Miss Caplan.”

Mr Henderson told the jury that at first he had laughed at what Ms Kent was alleging, and he had never met her before.

The footballer and Mr Bell, 42, did not know each other, but earlier in the evening Mr Bell had been given a cigarette by Miss Caplan as they stood outside the restaurant.

The men had spoken on two earlier occasions that night.

After the confrontation with Ms Kent, Miss Caplan, who had been bought a Hermes handbag and a bracelet by the footballer for Christmas, was upset and left the bar.

Mr Bell then walked over to talk to Mr Henderson again.

The barman Jack Oakley was said to be under the impression that Mr Bell was trying to calm the situation down.

CCTV played to the court showed Mr Bell, who admitted he was drunk, appeared to be unsteady on his feet. Mr Henderson was seen to throw two punches.

The footballer told the jury he thought he was going to be hit and that he acted in self-defence.

Asked how he felt when his girlfriend walked out in a distressed state he said: “I was frustrated, very tired, stunned and shocked that the evening had ended so badly.”

He said it seemed that Ms Kent had brought Mr Bell over to him just before he hit him, adding, “they walked from the same area and exchanged a bottle of champagne.”

Mr Henderson went on: “He said: ‘I am going to make you apologise.’ Even though he was smaller than me I was worried about what he was going to do. He put his head next to mine. I stood up to push him away.”

Asked by his barrister Sean Minihan why he threw a second punch, he said: “In my opinion he was still a threat.”

Mr Bell, who required surgery to free a trapped nerve, told the jury he had no memory of how he ended up in at Watford Hospital.

Asked about the evening, he said: “I was happy. I was with friends. It was New Year’s Eve.”

Recorder Simon Sterling told Mr Henderson, who had his head in his hands, that he was free to go. He granted him a costs order, meaning that his legal fees will be paid.

Mr Henderson was too upset to talk to waiting media after the jury returned its verdict.