Footballer from Hitchin pleads guilty to knocking out referee

Hitchin's Luke Nicholls, 28, has pleaded guilty to ABH after punching a referee during a football ma

Hitchin's Luke Nicholls, 28, has pleaded guilty to ABH after punching a referee during a football match in Luton. File photo. Picture: Weloc - Credit: Archant

A footballer from Hitchin has pleaded guilty to knocking a referee unconscious during a match, in a brutal incident that has prompted the victim to never take another game.

Luke Nicholls, of John Barker Place, yesterday received a 12-month community sentence over the assault – which happened after the referee sent off Nicholls’ brother during a match in Luton.

Referee Henry Ifesi showed the 28-year-old’s brother the red card amid an argument also involving their father. Nicholls, who was playing for AFC Stopsley during the match at Stockwood Park, punched the referee in the back of the head before fleeing.

The other team, AFC Enterprise, was left to tend to Mr Ifesi – who was prompted by the incident on December 11, 2016, to quit refereeing after 24 years.

He regained consciousness in an ambulance, and needed hospital treatment.

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Speaking to Luton Today, Mr Ifesi has called the sentencing “a travesty of justice” – adding that he was “truly shocked that the man walked free”.

“He moved behind an unsuspecting football referee, aimed and landed a savage blow to the back of my skull,” he said.

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“This individual used every trick in the book to avoid the police for over 17 months, despite their numerous visits to track him down.”

Nicholls was initially questioned by police in February 2017. When interviewed, he denied being at the game and claimed another player had used his name. This forced a lengthy identification process.

The 28-year-old eventually admitted what he had done and pleaded guilty at Luton Crown Court to assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Det Con Daniel O’Mahoney, who investigated the incident, said after the sentencing: “We are satisfied that the offender in this case has been brought to justice nearly two years after the incident.

“We have carried out a thorough investigation and in the end the offender decided to plead guilty to this violent assault.”

Nicholls was sentenced to a 12-month community order, during which he will have to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

He will also be subject to a three-month tagged curfew between 9pm and 6am each night, and must pay £250 in compensation to Mr Ifesi.

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