FC Halifax Town fan escapes prison after football steward injured in pitch invasion

Joseph Hayes from Halifax appearing at Warwick Crown Court.
Joseph Hayes from Halifax appearing at Warwick Crown Court.

A FC Halifax Town fan who took part in a pitch invasion during which a football club steward was knocked to the ground and kicked has escaped being jailed.

Joseph Hayes had originally denied a charge of violent disorder, but changed his plea to guilty on the day of his trial at Warwick Crown Court.

Hayes (25) of Albion Court, Halifax, was given a 12-month community order, with a rehabilitation activity for 30 days.

Prosecutor Richard Witcombe said the incident took place following a match between Nuneaton Town and Halifax Town two-and-a-half years ago in August 2016.

About a third of the 1,000-strong crowd at Nuneaton’s ground were visiting supporters who were unhappy about where they had been directed to sit for the game.

Concerned that there might be a pitch invasion at the end of the game, Nuneaton Town stewards moved to that area of the ground before the final whistle.

In fact, when the ref blew to end the match, just one Halifax supporter ran onto the pitch.

But when he was detained by the stewards, that prompted an invasion by around 40 fans, including Hayes.

During the violence which followed, steward Marc Rygielski suffered a bloody nose when he was knocked to the ground and kicked, allegedly by Hayes.

But he entered his plea on the basis that it was not him who aimed a kick at the steward – and after looking at photographs taken of the incident, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano said they did not show him doing so.

The judge commented: “Forty people go onto the pitch, and he’s the only one in the dock.”

Andrew Wilkins, defending, explained that pictures had been sent by Warwickshire Police to the West Yorkshire force, but Hayes was the only one officers were able to identify.

He was recognised because he had been made subject to a three-year football banning order following a conviction for letting off a flare at a football ground in 2012.

Mr Wilkins said that Hayes had mental health issues and was not working at the moment, but was the sole carer for his father who had recently suffered a stroke.

And he added that Hayes had spent ‘well over £1,000’ travelling from Halifax to the court for various hearings over the last two years.

Sentencing Hayes, Judge de Bertodano told him: “You are here because of something that happened two-and-a-half years ago now.

“It was a very short but serious incident of violence at a football match, when 40 people went onto the pitch and a steward was injured.

"It is accepted there is no evidence you were the one who caused that injury, and I have read about your mental health issues and that you are a carer for your father.”

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