Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Throwing The First Punch

West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand admitted throwing the first punch in a confrontation outside a nightclub, a court heard today. Ferdinand told police he thought the man might be an armed mugger who wanted to steal his £64,000 diamond-encrusted watch. The 22-year-old, who had been mugged a year earlier, explained he "had worked hard" for the valuable timepiece and was not about to let anybody take it. Ferdinand, who is on trial for assaulting the "would-be thief" he insisted had been "eyeballing" him, said his alleged victim also threatened to kill his friend.Despite Ferdinand trying to act as "peacemaker" during the increasingly tense situation, a fight suddenly erupted. London's Snaresbrook crown court heard it was then he began trading blows with the man. However, when he was asked who struck the first blow, he admitted he had.

Ferdinand pleads not guilty to causing actual bodily harm and affray outside Faces nightclub in Ilford on October 2 last year. In the dock with him is Edward Dawkins, 28, of Beckton, east London, who also denies the charges. Their alleged victim, Emile Walker, 23, has told jurors that, after Ferdinand struck him, he was punched and kicked to the ground by up to 10 men. He managed to escape and flee from the scene with just a badly bruised jaw and a cut on his forehead. Jurors have heard Ferdinand was about to be driven from the scene when police stopped the car he was in and questioned him about the incident. Initially he denied being involved in any fight outside the club, saying his lip had been cut during an incident inside the premises, while blood on his T-shirt came from an old leg injury.

In his statement Ferdinand described leaving the nightclub at about 1am and being kicked by a man in the foyer on the way out. A friend told him to ignore the incident, but as they headed for the pavement he became aware of a group of men hanging about. "I became apprehensive because one of the men began looking at me and my watch," said his statement. "Although it was insured I was worried in case the man might try to take it from me. The fear arose in part because I was mugged about a year ago in Croydon during which my mobile was taken from me and a chain ripped from me. I found that incident frightening and I try now to avoid having to go through that again."

Ferdinand told police that as the man - allegedly Mr Walker - continued "eyeballing" him his friend asked the man what he was looking at. His statement went on: "He said to my friend 'Is he for real? I will kill you'. My friend got mad at being threatened like that. I told him to walk away. I was afraid there was going to be a fight, one I had not started, did not want and was trying to walk away from. I was worried he would take my watch by force and I had worked hard to earn the money to buy that watch and did not want him to take it from me. "The man who had threatened to kill my friend seemed to be acting on that threat by approaching us. For all I knew he had a knife. It worries me people who are prepared to start a fight do not do so without carrying a weapon."

Ferdinand said the violence he had feared then began. "Other people quickly became involved," he said. "I wasn't really focusing on anything other than protecting myself. It was very frightening." The interviewing officer then asked him whether he hit anyone. "Yes ... by punches and he did punches as well," he replied, in an apparent reference to Mr Walker. "Did you punch him before he punched you?" - "Yeah."

Ferdinand said one of the blows he received loosened one of his teeth and subsequently required dental treatment. He also aggravated an old hamstring injury during the melee. "It was all really a daze for me," he said. "I was very anxious. It was such a horrible experience." Even after arriving home 90 minutes later he was "still anxious and distressed". Ferdinand, who told police he had drunk no more than five "JD and cokes" during the evening, added: "Around that area it is a known fact that a lot of people in my profession go to clubs like that."

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow when Ferdinand is expected to give evidence.

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