London: Former England captain John Terry was cleared in a London court Friday of a charge of racially abusing his fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand.

Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle found the 31-year-old Chelsea skipper not guilty at the end of a five-day trial at Westminster Magistrates Court, saying it was the only verdict he could reach.

Terry was stripped of the England captaincy in February over the allegations. As a consequence, Fabio Capello resigned as England manager, just months before England, defender Terry included, competed in the 2012 European Championships.

Terry, wearing a white shirt with a grey suit, left court without speaking to media or supporters waiting outside.

He was accused of branding Queens Park Rangers player Ferdinand a "fucking black cunt" during a match between Chelsea and QPR on October 23 last year.

Terry denied committing a racially aggravated public order offence.

He told the court he was sarcastically repeating words he thought Ferdinand had said to him.

In his verdict, Riddle said that after weighing the evidence it was "highly unlikely" Ferdinand accused Terry on the pitch of calling him the words in question.

"However, I accept that it is possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made," said Riddle.

"The prosecution evidence as to what was said by Mr Ferdinand at this point is not strong.

"It is therefore possible that what he (Terry) said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.

"In those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty."

England's governing Football Association reacted to Friday's verdict by saying it would continue its own disciplinary process regarding the incident, which was suspended so as not to prejudice the trial.

"The FA notes the decision in the John Terry case and will now seek to conclude its own enquiries," it said.

"The FA will make no further comment at this time."

Riddle heard three days of evidence, with Terry's fellow Chelsea and England defender Ashley Cole among those taking the witness stand, and one day of summaries.

Though it was not the issue being judged, Riddle said he had substantial evidence to confirm Terry was not a racist.

He said there was no dispute that Terry directed the words at Ferdinand, but the issue was whether Terry used the words "by way of insult".

"He says they were used after a perceived false accusation made by Mr Ferdinand, the accusation being to the effect that the defendant had used the term."

Terry's reputation had been "at stake" during the trial, Riddle said.

But his account had been subject to "the most searching and thorough questioning" and "nobody has been able to show that he is lying".

He said that even with the help of lip readers, it was "impossible" to determine exactly what was said by both parties.

After the game, Riddle accepted that the pair "had a conversation about what was said on the pitch. Mr Ferdinand denied that he had heard any racial abuse or made any allegation of racial abuse."

In a statement, Terry's lawyers said the defender had consistently explained his position to the FA, the police and the court.

"He did not racially abuse Mr Ferdinand and the court has accepted this. John would like to thank his legal team for their hard work and his family, friends and Chelsea Football Club for their support."

In a brief statement, Chelsea said they respected the verdict.

"We are pleased that John can now focus on football and his pre-season preparations with the team."

Ferdinand's parents declined to comment as they left court.

The charge was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, the state prosecutors in England and Wales.

Alison Saunders, the chief crown prosecutor for London, said in a statement: "The very serious allegation at the heart of this case was one of racial abuse.

"It was our view that this was not 'banter' on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court.

"The chief magistrate agreed that Mr Terry had a case to answer, but having heard all of the evidence he acquitted Mr Terry of a racially aggravated offence.

"That is justice being done and we respect the chief magistrate's decision."

(Agencies)

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