Sidmouth forward cleared of rugby bite attack on rival player
A former army soldier has been cleared of biting an opposing rugby player’s ear after a Judge directed a jury to find him not guilty.
Mark Unsworth, aged 40, walked free from Exeter Crown Court after evidence came to light that undermined the credibility of the alleged victim Craig Britton.
Unsworth was playing his first game for Sidmouth in a home league match against Avonmouth Old Boys when he was involved in an incident at a collapsed scrum.
Mr Britton, a 39-year-old dock worker, who was Avonmouth’s hooker, claimed the rival forward bit off a section of the top of his right ear as he lay on top of him in a pile of players.
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Unsworth always denied causing the injury but was banned from rugby for two years in 2011 after an inquiry by the RFU and an appeal hearing at Twickenham.
He is a former sergeant who played rugby for the Army and captained a services side while based in Germany.
Unsworth, aged 40, of Back Lane, Newton Poppleford, denied unlawful wounding and was found not guilty after the prosecution offered no evidence.
Judge Phillip Wassall ordered the jury to enter the verdict after hearing evidence in a closed hearing.
He told the jury the evidence undermined the reliability of Mr Britton’s testimony but did not explain what it was.
During the four day case Mr Britton told the jury he was left in agony when he was bitten on the ear early in the second half of the game.
He said the missing piece of his ear was never found and he has been left permanently scarred.
The trial was stopped before Unsworth was able to give his version of events but his defence was set out in an interview he gave to police three months after the incident in 2010.
He told police the only contact with the alleged victim was an accidental clash of heads and said he had been punched, kicked, kneed and gouged in a series of attacks.
Unsworth said the game against Avonmouth was one of the dirtiest he had played in and he believed the other side were trying to rile the Sidmouth team into making mistakes or losing their discipline.
He said there had been scuffles but he had not been involved in any violence before the incident which led to Mr Britton’s injury.
He told police:”Our scrum had been overpowering theirs for most of the match and there was a scrum in which one of their second rows headbutted me.
“Mr Britton had popped up from the scrum and said something, I can’t remember what, but he made a comment and started punching down onto my head.
“I grabbed him round the legs and threw him to the right hand side to stop him punching me and landed on top of him and my head came close to his head and I heard him shout ‘ow’. He shouted in pain.
“People pulled us apart and the referee blew his whistle. I can’t remember how he restarted the game.
“Mr Britton came back on ten minutes afterwards and within two minutes he launched and attack on me using his fists and I think his knees.
“There were incidents with other Avonmouth players. Someone tried to gouge my eyes.”
He said he left and went home as soon as the match ended because he feared for his safety and was upset that his wife and children were watching.
He denied any sort of bite and said the only contact with Mr Britton was an accidental clash of heads.