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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 16:50 GMT
Peer criticises 'football's Bin Ladens'
Sarfraz Najeib at the press conference on Thursday with his father and others.
Civil action is to be taken against Leeds football club
A peer has hit out at "the Bin Ladens of British football" as he condemned the actions of Leeds United over the cases of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate.

Liberal Democrat Lord Dholakia called for a government inquiry into the way the criminal justice system handled the trials of the two Leeds players who were accused of beating up student Sarfraz Najeib.


We should thoroughly deplore the action of the Leeds Club, its manager and its chairman in the way they seem to be handling this matter

Lord Dholakia
Liberal Democrat

He also fiercely criticised any "thugs who masquerade as footballers", saying such "Bin Ladens" should be banned from playing abroad.

Mr Bowyer, 24, and Woodgate, 21, were both cleared last Friday of causing grievous bodily harm to Mr Najeib.

Mr Bowyer was also cleared of affray but Woodgate was found guilty of the offence and was ordered to do 100 hours community service.

Mr Najeib's family have said they will be taking civil action against the players, the club and three other men.


Does the sentence meted out justify the evidence and seriousness of the assault?

Lord Dholakia
Liberal Democrat

Lord Dholakia told peers the Leeds club, its manager and its chairman should all be deplored for the way they had handled the matter.

Mr Bowyer has been placed on the club's transfer list for not accepting a fine of four weeks' wages for allegedly being drunk on the night of the attack.

Woodgate has paid a fine of eight weeks' wages.

Lord Dholakia asked why the club had not done for more the victim.

He also questioned why the first trial was delayed, why the definition of racial attack was ignored and whether an all-white jury was appropriate.

"Does the sentence meted out justify the evidence and seriousness of the assault?" he asked.

Lord Dholakia
Lord Dholakia says football 'thugs' should be banned from playing abroad.

Lord Dholakia was speaking in the Lords during the Second Reading debate on the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill, which allows the police to impose banning orders on disorderly fans.

He called for the bill to be extended so that violent players could be banned from playing football abroad.

For the government, Lord Bassam of Brighton said all the issues thrown up by the trial would need to be reflected upon.

He picked out "its implications for clubs who know that they have to tackle insidious racism", as well as "the time and the quality of the judicial process and the way in which it worked."

'Regrettable'

Labour's Lord Faulkner of Worcester, a former vice chairman of the Football Task Force and a director of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club, said Mr Bowyer and Woodgate should not be selected to play for England.

"However talented these players may be as footballers, their selection for England would send the unmistakeable message that every drunken lout of that sort, and behaviour of that sort, is tolerated."

Lord Bridgeman, for the Tories, said the "regrettable" case could encourage more football-related violence.


Racism and violence are part of the rottenness that has to be taken out of English football

Lord McNally, Liberal Democrats
He commended Leeds for taking action against the two individuals concerned, but said clubs must "keep control over the discipline of their own players both on and off the field".

For the Liberal Democrats, Lord McNally called for a "greater sense of social responsibility" from club directors, managers and players.

"There should be greater community involvement by the major soccer clubs," he said. "Most are trying. But they have got to try a whole lot harder."

Lord McNally also called on clubs to take a much tougher line against racism and violence.

"Racism and violence are part of the rottenness that has to be taken out of English football," he said.

The bill was given an unopposed second reading.

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