Fans avoid jail for storming Old Trafford and causing £63k in damages

Fans avoid jail for storming Old Trafford and causing £63k in damages

11/03/2022

Manchester United fan avoids jail after smashing up £63,000 Sky Sports camera and hurling missiles in ‘drink-fuelled rampage’ when Liverpool match protest against club owners turned violent as yobs attacked police and hurled abuse at Jamie Carragher

  • Jake Cottee, 21, Matthew Smethurst, 30, Keenan Kavanagh, 30, sentenced today
  • Trio are first of 40 fans set to be hauled before courts for protests last May 2
  • Some 2,000 fans descended on Old Trafford before ‘unruly mob’ stormed pitch 
  • Cottee lawyer suggested ADHD made him ‘impulsive’ on ‘afternoon of madness’

Three Manchester United fans who stormed Old Trafford as part of a ‘drink-fuelled rampage’ last summer before causing more than £65,000 worth of damage have avoided jail.

Jake Cottee, 21,  Matthew Smethurst, 30, and Keenan Kavanagh, 20, all pleaded guilty to violent disorder ahead of sentencing at Manchester Crown Court on Thursday. Cottee and Smethurst also admitted criminal damage.

They are the first of 40 defendants to be hauled to the courts after protests against United’s ownership and the infamous European Super League announcement turned ugly. 

Around 2,000 fans descended on Old Trafford last May ahead of the club’s fixture against Liverpool, which was being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus. 

It ultimately had to be postponed after some of the protesters morphed into an ‘unruly mob’ and became violent towards stewards and police before storming the pitch and damaging camera equipment. 

Abuse was also hurled at former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher, who was set to commentate on the match, while flares were fired towards police and other TV pundits. 

Cottee, from Kent, who the court heard has an ‘extremely well paid job’ working as a service technician in the offshore wind industry, caused £63,000 in damages when he pushed over a Sky Sports camera. 

His lawyer appeared to blame what he described as an ‘out of character afternoon of madness’ on his client’s ADHD, which he said makes him act ‘impulsively.’ 

Keenan Kavanagh (pictured), 20, was seen kicking in a turnstile and throwing cans. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years and must carry out 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days and 150 hours of unpaid work


Jake Cottee (left), 21, from Kent and Matthew Smethurst (right), 30, from Oldham, both pleaded guilty to violent disorder and criminal damage ahead of sentencing at Manchester Crown Court on Thursday

Around 2,000 fans descended on Old Trafford last May ahead of the club’s fixture against Liverpool, which was being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus (protest pictured)

Cottee was ordered to pay £12,000 in compensation towards the damaged camera, while Smethurst, from Oldham, was told he must pay £3,800 compensation to Manchester United for a door he kicked in, and £717 to the owners of a camera tripod he threw onto the pitch. 

They were both sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. 

Kavanagh, from Salford, was seen kicking in a turnstile and throwing cans. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years and must carry out 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days and 150 hours of unpaid work.

The judge said all three men could have no complaint if he sent them to jail, but he was satisfied there was a prospect of rehabilitation. 

They were each handed football banning orders, preventing them from attending games for three years.

‘What appears to have started out as a lawful demonstration against the owners of the club quickly turned into an altogether more serious incident of public disorder, during which unlawful entry was gained to the stadium, property was damaged, bottles and cans were thrown at police officers and stadium security staff,’ Judge Patrick Field KC said.

‘There were direct assaults on police officers, security staff were jostled… one police officer suffered a very serious injury to his face. 

‘This was on any view an exhibition of the most unpleasant and unacceptable public disorder, that appears in significant part to have been fuelled by excessive consumption of alcohol.

‘This was a serious disturbance of the peace. Each of you was a member of a large and at times unruly mob.

‘The behaviour and antics of each of you as constituent parts of the unruly mob encouraged others to begave in a similarly disgraceful and unacceptable way.’ 

Prosecutors told how United fans began to congregate on the stadium forecourt at around 1pm, with the game due to kick off at 4.30pm on Sunday, May 2.

Flares were being let off, songs were sung and flags were displayed, with the protest initially being peaceful, prosecutor David Lees said. 

But at about 2pm some protestors breached security barriers and tried to force open the gates to the Munich tunnel.

As Smethurst tried to climb over the gates, he kicked out and connected with the head of a steward, who suffered ‘pain and discomfort’. 

Protestors were able to force their way into the stadium and onto the pitch. It was then that Cottee pushed over a Sky TV camera, causing £63,000 worth of damage.

A flare was thrown towards the Sky commentary team, but missed. Corner flags and footballs were stolen, the court heard. 

Stewards were able to remove the intruders, but entry was gained for a second time after a door for disabled supporters was kicked open by Smethurst and others.

Some hurled abuse at former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher who was commentating on the game, Mr Lees said. Smethurst climbed into a broadcast area and threw a camera tripod onto the pitch, damaging it.

Fans were removed from the stadium for a second time, and outside scenes became ‘increasingly vociferous and violent’, the prosecutor said. 

Flares, bottles and cans were thrown in the direction of police, during which an officer was hit to the face with a bottle.

He suffered ‘serious fractures’ to bones in his face. A man is due to stand trial in relation to this incident next year.

A bloodied face mask in front of the Manchester United team hotel in Manchester, following last May’s protests

The court heard that 35 assaults against police officers and security staff were recorded at last May’s storming of Old Trafford. One officer said missiles were being thrown at them ‘like confetti’

The actions of Cottee, Smethurst and Kavanagh were caught on CCTV. Judge Field said Cottee had embarked on a ‘violent, drink fuelled rampage’ (Pictured: Protest outside Old Trafford last May) 

Mr Lees said 35 assaults against police officers and security staff were recorded. One officer said missiles were being thrown at them ‘like confetti’.

Another officer was kicked to the testicles, one was cut after being showered by broken glass, and another was hit in the head by a glass bottle. A police horse was hit in the face by a bottle, but was protected by its visor.

Eventually, after 4pm, police were able to move the protestors away from Old Trafford and onto Chester Road, where some surrounded cars occupied by members of the public. The game was abandoned and rescheduled for a later date.

The actions of Cottee, Smethurst and Kavanagh were caught on CCTV. Judge Field said Cottee had embarked on a ‘violent, drink fuelled rampage’.

He made it onto the pitch, damaged the TV camera, and threw missiles during the fracas outside the ground. Smethurst threw a flare, repeatedly kicked at a security gate, pushed stewards and threw the tripod.

Kavanagh was seen throwing cans, took hold of metal security barriers and kicked at a turnstile door 12 times. All of their barristers appealed for them to be spared from being sent to prison, noting they have not committed any criminal offences previously.

Defending Cottee, Jonathan Dickinson said the devoted United fan, who has followed the team across Europe, had otherwise led a hard working and ‘blameless’ life. 

Cottee has an ‘extremely well paid job’ working as a service technician in the offshore wind industry, the court heard.

He described Cottee’s actions as an ‘out of character afternoon of madness’, committed while his ‘adrenaline was running high’. Mr Dickinson said Cottee has been diagnosed with ADHD which can cause him to behave ‘impulsively’.

‘He like many of Manchester United’s supporters at that time was particularly unhappy at the involvement of the club’s owners in the European Super League,’ he said. 

He said Cottee was ‘genuinely shocked’ at his own behaviour, and that he never intended to harm anyone.

Steven Sullivan, defending, said Kavanagh was immature and became ‘tipsy’ at the protest. ‘It’s quite clear alcohol eroded his common sense, his moral compass and his habitual pleasant behaviour,’ the barrister said.

‘He was swept up with immaturity and tipsiness in the heat and emotion of the moment.’ Kavanagh told police he was ‘sorry’ and ‘ashamed’ when he was interviewed.

Mr Sullivan said Kavanagh’s behaviour was out of character. He said that Kavanagh has a job and provides ‘significant’ support for his sick grandfather.

Michael James, defending Smethurst, said the defendant was ‘very drunk’ at the protest, and that looking back his behaviour ‘surprises himself’. He said Smethurst was ‘disgusted’ by his actions, and ‘apologises profusely’ to the stewards he ‘pushed around’.

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