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Court convicts young footballers, father in beating death of volunteer linesman

06/17/2013 09:35 EDT | Updated 08/17/2013 05:12 EDT
A Dutch court convicted six young footballers and the father of one of the players of manslaughter on Monday for kicking to death a volunteer linesman after a youth match last December in a brutal attack that shocked this football-loving nation.

Judges in Lelystad sentenced the 50-year-old father, identified only as El-Hasan D, to six years in prison. Five teenaged players were given two-year sentences in youth detention for their roles in the attack and another was sentenced to a year. A seventh player, age 15, was sentenced to 30 days detention for assault.

All the defendants had insisted they were innocent. They have two weeks to appeal. Their lawyers argued that the linesman, Richard Nieuwenhuizen, could have had an underlying medical condition that contributed to his death but Dutch forensic experts said he died as a result of the beating.

His family was relieved with the convictions.

"I'm happy. I hope this makes a statement," said the linesman's son, Michael Nieuwenhuizen. "They have been given the maximum sentence possible in the Netherlands. I hope that people who think we can have arguments think 'no we can't because we'll get this punishment.'"

Defence lawyers said they would appeal the convictions.

"They are using this to set an example and that's a shame," said attorney Geert-Iem Roos. "Of course it's good that football violence is dealt with, but it still happens every weekend. But you must not use an individual criminal case to express that."

Judges said the young players acted together in the fatal beating and gave them the highest sentences available.

"The seriousness of the event, the lack of a clear reason for it, the terrible consequences, the fact that they haven't accepted responsibility for their acts and the enormous shock it caused throughout society and the entire football world meant that the minors received the maximum possible sentence," the court said in a statement.

The fatal attack took place on Dec. 2 in the Dutch city of Almere, after the home team Buitenboys drew 2-2 with Nieuw Sloten, which is based in a mostly immigrant neighbourhood of Amsterdam.

The 41-year-old Nieuwenhuizen was a volunteer linesman, officiating in a match that one of his sons was playing in. He initially seemed to recover and shrugged off questions about whether he would file a complaint, but he later collapsed and died in hospital the following day.

The Netherlands' National Forensics Institute concluded he was killed as a result of injuries sustained during the attack.

In a statement, the court said the father sentenced to six years had received a heavy punishment because "instead of setting a good example to the youths by criticizing their behaviour he joined them in kicking and beating the linesman and has never accepted responsibility" for his actions.

Nieuwenhuizen's death triggered a bout of soul-searching in Dutch football and beyond about the loss of respect for sports officials among youth players.

"You can't imagine it happening," said Ajax coach Frank de Boer. "That boys of 15, 16 years short circuit like that. You wonder about the parenting."

More than 12,000 people attended a silent march for Nieuwenhuizen in Almere on Dec. 9.

"What can I do to teach today's football youth the difference between anger and aggression?" said national football association chairman Michael van Praag at a ceremony afterwards. "Football is emotion, but it's also winning and losing. You have to be able to do both, otherwise you don't fit in our sport."

Another of Nieuwenhuizen's sons, Jamie, said he hoped the case would mark a new beginning.

"There's still a long way to go because there is still too little respect in society. We have to work on that and this is part of it," he said.

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