Former Sheffield United striker Darius Henderson cried as he was today cleared of causing grievous bodily harm.
The footballer said he was acting in self defence when he threw two punches at John Bell, who suffered a fractured cheekbone and cut to his eye socket.
Henderson’s evening out with his then girlfriend Lucy Caplan was ruined when they were confronted by a woman, who repeatedly claimed she had sex with him.
It was the third time a jury had been called to hear the case. On the first occasion a witness was unavailable and on the second the jury could not reach a verdict.
Today, the third jury – made up of five men and seven women – unanimously cleared Henderson.
The 32-year-old, who now plays for Nottingham Forest, had told St Albans Crown Court Mr Bell had said he was going to make Henderson apologise to a woman who claimed she had sex with him at his home in Markyate, Hertfordshire.
He said Mr Bell, aged 42, told him: “Even though you are bigger than me. I’ll use a bottle if I need to.”
Henderson said he threw the punches at Mr Bell on January 1, 2012, when he refused to leave – the first barely connected, but the second knocked Mr Bell to the floor.
Alan Richards, prosecuting, had told the court Henderson – a Millwall player at the time – and his girlfriend had been confronted by 48-year-old Hazel Kent at Darcy’s restaurant in St Albans.
He said Ms Kent was ‘responsible for sowing seeds of tension’ after claiming she had recently had sex with Henderson.
CCTV played to the court showed Mr Bell, who admitted he was drunk, appeared to be unsteady on his feet. Henderson was seen to throw two punches.
The court heard barman Jack Oakley was under the impression Mr Bell was trying to calm things down.
Mr Richards said: ‘It is possible his intervention caused Henderson, who was already, the crown say, upset and angered by Miss Kent’s behaviour, to perceive Mr Bell as associated with her.”
Henderson told the court he laughed Ms Kent’s allegations off, as there was no truth in them.
Asked how he felt when his girlfriend walked out in a distressed state, he said: “I was frustrated, tired, stunned and shocked the evening had ended so badly.”
Asked by his barrister Sean Minihan why he threw a second punch, he said: “In my opinion he was still a threat.”
Recorder Simon Sterling told Henderson, who had his head in his hands, that he was free to go. He granted him a costs order, meaning his legal fees will be paid.
Henderson was too upset to talk after the verdict.
Henderson, who grew up in Doncaster and attended the town’s Hall Cross School, joined Sheffield United from Watford for a fee of about £2 million in July 2008.
He scored 20 goals in 79 appearances during three years with the Blades, before joining Millwall in June 2011 following United’s relegation to League One. He moved to Forest last year.