Should Lee Hughes be allowed to return to English football?

Ed’s note: For those of you not familiar with the story, read this (2004) and this (2007).

When Lee Hughes left a Coventry pub in November 2003, having allegedly consumed large quantities of alcohol and cocaine – he got behind the wheel of his £100,000 Mercedes, he made a decision akin to pulling a trigger.

The West Bromwich Albion and former Coventry City striker was then involved in a sickening traffic incident, where his vehicle – traveling on the wrong side of a dark Meriden road – hit that of my uncle, Albert Frisby – killing one passenger, and seriously injuring my uncle and one other.

The footballer, leaving the occupants of the other vehicle for dead, fled the scene of the accident, and was not seen for thirty six hours, before he subsequently handed himself in to the Coventry police, having conveniently cleansed his body of the toxicants which would have added a significant period to his imprisonment had they been detected at the scene.

This August Hughes will be released after serving only three years of his paltry six year sentence. He is now courting an offer from Oldham football club, which would see him return to the professional game next season, to start rebuilding his career in the game.

There has been much said about the approach of Oldham Athletic, and the questionable ethics of the people behind this decision, but the upshot of it is that our national game, watched weekly by millions us of, will next season take back to it’s ranks a man who committed a cowardly and deadly crime. He killed and injured innocent people, and then showed his complete lack of compassion by leaving them to die.

Legally of course, the FA could not stop Lee Hughes from returning to the sport, there are all sorts of employment laws which would be broken should his return to work be blocked. And who can blame Oldham? For a League One club, Hughes is an exciting proposition, a player they will sign for free, and pay an average wage could score the goals which take Oldham a step closer to promotion to the Championship.

It is a risk free signing, and should it pay off, could be – financially at least – very rewarding. The fickle nature of football suggests that if Hughes scores a few goals, the Oldham fans will soon be chanting his name from the terraces of Boundary Park.

The shame in this lies again at doorstep of Mr Hughes. When he is released, he should do the decent thing and shy away from the public spotlight, ply his chosen trade abroad should he so wish. The vision of Hughes trotting out at boundary park will bring anger and grief back to those people most affected by his idiocy.

The family of the deceased Mr Graham, and his wife who has also since died. My uncle, who must everyday live with the consequences of what happened, he will live the rest of his life in almost constant pain, and will never walk unaided again. His wife who had to give up work to tend to her husband, and his children who have been so affected by their fathers deteriorating health, and independence.

There are many facets to this story which raise important and unanswered questions.

Why was the sentence so short?

Why, after only serving 3 years is he even being considered for parole? His behavioral record in prison does not make him an obvious candidate for early release.

Why was he allowed to leave a pub full of people who knew he was not fit to drive, and get behind his wheel?

Hughes – people will say – has served his time. The price you pay for killing one person, and seriously injuring at least one other is apparently now 3 years. The British Justice system should be ashamed, because long after this despicable coward is released from prison, there will still be people suffering because of what he did in November 2003.

Here’s to hoping that football fans take longer to forget what this man did that the Board of Oldham Athletic seem to have done, and that they remind him at every opportunity of his failings as a human being.

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