London: Ashley Cole opened a new front in the divisive John Terry-Anton Ferdinand affair on Friday, abusing the Football Association on his Twitter account after he was found to have changed his evidence to support the Chelsea captain’s defence against allegations of racial abuse.
Cole’s intervention on Twitter, in which he launched a foul-mouthed tirade at the FA, for which he later apologised, came after an independent disciplinary commission declared that Terry’s defence against allegations he racially abused Ferdinand was “improbable, implausible and contrived”. The damning verdict against Terry was revealed yesterday in the full reasons for the four-match ban handed down by the commission. While the panel ruled that Terry was not a racist, their judgment could barely have been more condemnatory, and was also hugely damaging for Cole and Chelsea.
It also called into question the competence of the FA’s disciplinary procedures and some of its most senior officials. As well as dismissing Terry’s defence that he had only used the racist insults towards Ferdinand because he thought the QPR defender had accused him of doing so earlier in the match, the commission found that Cole and a Chelsea official had changed their evidence. The panel found that Cole’s evidence had “evolved” over time to strengthen Terry’s defence.
Cole was the primary defence witness but, according to the judgment, he did not initially tell FA investigators he had heard any of the offensive words during the exchange between Terry and Ferdinand. In a revised witness statement submitted 10 days after his first interview in Oct 2011, Cole, via Chelsea club secretary David Barnard, asked for the world “black” to be inserted in his statement. Despite this the commission found that “Mr Cole did not hear, and could not have believed, understood or misunderstood Mr Ferdinand to have used the word ‘black’.”
Barnard’s role in the process is also questioned, with the panel finding that his final witness statement, issued a week before its hearing last month, was contradicted by Cole’s initial witness statements. His recollections are described as “materially defective”, and the panel stated: “If there is a satisfactory explanation for the discrepancies in Mr Barnard’s evidence, the commission was not provided with one.”
The FA is criticised for its failure to make an audio recording of its initial interview with Cole and for failures in its disclosure processes that are described as inadequate for a case of this seriousness. Within four hours of the judgment being published Cole, who had been training at Chelsea’s Cobham base, tweeted his attack on the FA.
The message was later deleted but the damage had been done, with manager Roberto Di Matteo asked at his press conference if his players were “out of control”, and the FA and Cole’s advisers fielding questions about whether the defender would report for England duty on Monday.
Di Matteo said: “We’ll look at the tweet and then we’ll see. I need to see the reasoning behind it.”
Cole realised the seriousness of his offence and issued an apology, saying he had acted “in the heat of the moment”. He then spoke with Roy Hodgson, and said he would report for training on Monday. He can still expect to face a disciplinary hearing for a message that appears to breach the FA’s rules on misconduct.
Earlier this year, Rio Ferdinand was fined £45,000 (Dh267,000) for endorsing a tweet racially abusing Cole and it would be a huge surprise if the left-back was not charged.
Terry, who has 14 days to appeal against his ban, did not give evidence in his own defence, with his legal team relying on the not-guilty verdict delivered by District Judge Howard Riddle at the criminal trial in July, in which Terry was described as a credible witness.
The panel concluded: “On the balance of probabilities there is no credible basis for Mr Terry’s defence that his use of the racist language was directed at Ferdinand by way of forceful rejection and/or inquiry. Instead, we are quite satisfied, and find on the balance of probabilities, that the offending words were said by way of insult. There are then further aspects of Mr Terry’s defence that the commission finds improbable, implausible and contrived, and which serve to underline and reinforce our decision.”
The panel ruled that the four-match ban was appropriate because the offensive words were uttered only once, in contrast to Luis Suarez’s repeated use of the word “negro” to Patrice Evra, which brought him an eight-match ban earlier this year.
Chelsea rejected the criticism of Barnard but declined to comment on Terry because he had yet to decide whether to appeal.
Campaign group Kick It Out said the episode had undermined anti-racism initiatives. “The written reasons are welcomed and acknowledge some important consequences of this episode, namely the trauma caused to the Ferdinand family,” it said. “It’s a period that has polarised the game, undermined the good work being done at all levels and it must never be allowed to happen again.”