We all knew that an announcement was coming and, somehow or other, the decision reached would have been surprising, no matter what it was – a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that this particular story should have twisted and turned in the way that it has since it first became apparent that something happened at Loftus Road during his team’s match against Queens Park Rangers, two months ago.

John Terry, the captain of Chelsea Football Club and the England national football team, has been charged with “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated”, and will stand trial at West London Magistrates Court on the first of February. Alison Saunders, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, released the following statement earlier this afternoon:

I have today advised the Metropolitan Police Service that John Terry should be prosecuted for a racially aggravated public order offence following comments allegedly made during a Premier League football match between Queen’s Park Rangers and Chelsea on 23 October 2011.

The decision was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and after careful consideration of all the evidence, I am satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute this case. Mr Terry will appear before West London Magistrates’ Court on 1 February 2012. He is now summonsed with a criminal offence and has the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice his trial.

Of course, this afternoon’s decision doesn’t, of itself, impact at all upon whether Terry is guilty of the charges brought against him apart from the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided that he has a case to answer, and we will not know of his guilt or otherwise until after the case has been heard. What is important is that he receives a fair trial. Indeed, possibly the most important part of the above statement is its final sentence. The mainstream press usually have checks and balances in place to ensure that their reporting doesn’t prejudice what will undoubtedly be an extremely high profile trial (and the fact that the CPS made specific reference to this in their statement on the subject would seem to indicate that they are more than alert to this potential danger). Whether less-regulated corners of the media (including social media – Twitter and Facebook, you have been warned) will be as circumspect is, of course, an entirely different matter.

From a purely footballing perspective, thoughts immediately and inevitably turn to Terry’s England captaincy, and how tenable this position may be in view of today’s news. The simple and reflex reaction to it is that he should be stripped of it (and calls for this will undoubtedly follow thick and fast), but it shouldn’t be considered a reflection upon his guilt or otherwise if he were to resign this position. Considering the harshness of the FA’s verdict on the Luis Suarez case last night, however, it is difficult to argue that his position as the captain of the national team may not be untenable, when we consider – whether rightly or wrongly – the investment that the English, for whatever reason, place into the captaincy of its national football team. It may be worth pausing to reflect that it has been a degree of fetishisation of the England captaincy that has, albeit arguably to only a tiny extent, cause such a pique of interest in this case.

It also worth bearing in mind that this is a completely seperate case to that of Luis Suarez, which has provided so much speculation over the last twenty-four hours or so. This works both ways, of course, since Terry may yet be completely exonerated or found guilty of the charges brought against him – the maximum punishment for a guilty verdict, for the record, is £2,500 – but we should remember that the burden of proof for this case will be higher than in the case of Suarez and the FA. The charges brought will have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, rather than on a balance of probabilities. It seems, however, inconceivable that the FA will not have to intervene to some extent at some point, but any charges brought against Terry by them would, presumably, be under the same burden of proof as Luis Suarez. It is now likely that any FA intervention will not be until after the verdict from the trial has been returned.

As with the Suarez case last night, we will not be commenting upon John Terry’s guilt or otherwise on this site. We can, however, pass brief comment upon Chelsea Football Club’s official statement on the decision to prosecute him. In short, this is more or less the statement that Liverpool should have issued last night. Some may criticise their support for the player, but it is entirely understandable that they should do that. Otherwise, it is a concise, professional statement which could not be interpreted as being prejudicial in any way but clarifies that the club will – as it should do, considering that he remains their employee – back him at least until an official verdict is reached. Such a statement doesn’t need to say any more than this.

There are arguments that may be had over whether John Terry can or cannot receive a fair trial, the vagaries of the British legal system and the matter of what may or may not be considered prejudicial in terms of the forthcoming trial. Now is probably not the time to be discussing that – standard reporting restrictions are, after all, already in place – but it may be worth dwelling upon the possibility that if this trial were to be prejudiced in any way, it would seem considerably more likely that any such prejuduce would come from the comments of those who have already declared him guilty. In view of this, we will be keeping the comments section closed on this article, and trust that you will understand our reasons for doing so. It may difficult for some to imagine in a world that seems to demand instant answers and explanations, but we will all have to wait for the cogs of the legal system to turn appropriately.

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