A THUG who invaded the pitch at Hillsborough and assaulted Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has been jailed for 16 weeks after branding himself as a ‘disgrace’.
Leeds United supporter Aaron Cawley, aged 21, of Blenheim Square, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, ran on to the pitch during the Yorkshire derby on Friday night and slapped the owls goalie over his face - sparking outrage among fans across the country.
Cawley, who has had two Football Banning Orders in the past and been jailed for breaching them, appeared at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and pleaded guilty to common assault and entering the field of play.
He was arrested by police at his home address in Cheltenham and brought to South Yorkshire for questioning on Sunday, where he admitted his actions and was charged.
Appearing at court with an LUFC tattoo clearly visible on his neck, Cawley watched television footage of the incident as it was shown to District Judge Naomi Redhouse - images beamed around the world on Friday night.
Paul Macaulay, prosecuting, said Cawley claimed to have been drunk when he ran on to the pitch and struck the Owls player after Leeds equalised in the second half.
He said he claimed to have downed several cans of Stella, three-quarters of a litre of vodka and six or seven pints of cider before the game.The court heard Cawley told police he could not remember the incident.
Mr Macaulay said: “Mr Kirkland thought it was somebody celebrating excessively and perhaps taking the mickey and whilst Mr Kirkland was stood there trying to ignore him he effectively slapped him to both sides of his face.
“He, Mr Kirkland, described it as being hit like a tonne of bricks and he went straight to the floor.
“Because this was a Friday night live match on Sky unsurprisingly the internet and social networking sites lit up with his name and he was apprehended at his home address.
“We all know once one idiot makes it on to the pitch often other follow with serious repercussions.
“There is great scope for public disorder whenever there is a pitch invasion. Luckily nobody followed his lead but that is only due to the grace of God.”
The court heard Cawley was contacted by a friend as he made his way home from the match on a train, who told him what he had done.
The following morning he emailed South Yorkshire Police and Sky News to admit responsibility and to apologise for his behaviour, describing himself as ‘a disgrace’ and his actions as ‘inexcusable’.
Cawley’s solicitor Elizabeth Anderton: “He has expressed a great deal of remorse for his actions. He is shocked by his behaviour.
“He had been drinking excessively all day. Mr Cawley has been shown the TV footage and cannot recall what he did.”
She said previous breaches of his Football Banning Orders had all been committed after he had been drinking.
One of the orders was imposed for a pitch invasion in which other culprits were jailed.
“He does not put forward drink as an excuse for his behaviour but he knows getting intoxicated to that extent it is likely to happen,” said his solicitor.
“He was disgusted with his behaviour, extremely ashamed.”
Ms Anderton added: “This wasn’t in any way pre-planned - it was a drunk mistake that Mr Cawley would like to assure the public will never happen again.”
Jailing Cawley, Judge Redhouse said the amount of alcohol he is said to have consumed before he ran on to the pitch was not obvious.
“I am told you understand you have brought shame onto the game of football by your actions,” she said.
“I have heard you consumed a substantial amount of alcohol, I have watched the television footage and I have to say I don’t observe those effects of alcohol on you.”
A victim impact statement read out on behalf of the Wednesday goalkeeper said: “I feel shocked, upset and angry.
“I think the man is a thug and he should be caught and put in jail.
“Anyone who supports what he has done is just as bad.”
Cawley, who was issued with a six year Football Banning Order yesterday afternoon, has also been banned from Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium for life.
A club spokesman said: “We are pleased to see the matter dealt with by the courts so quickly. We note that he has been given a 16-week jail sentence and a five-year banning order.
“The club will also ban the individual for life from Elland Road when this banning order expires.
“While we are pleased to see justice brought so quickly, our one disappointment is that we feel the sentence could, and should, have been considerably longer.”