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A balaclava-clad Italian hooligan who “destroyed” the life of a Liverpool supporter and his family in a “brutal and vicious” attack ahead of a Champions League tie has been jailed for three and a half years.
AS Roma supporter Simone Mastrelli, 30, picked out father-of-three Sean Cox, 53, from the Liverpool FC scarf he was wearing and knocked him unconscious to the floor with a single heavy blow to the face near to Anfield stadium.
Mastrelli, a married man with children, was at the fore of a group of between 50 and 60 ‘ultras’ in distinctive clothing with many covering their heads and faces, and some carrying belts in their hands as weapons.
As Mr Cox, from Dunboyne in Co Meath, Ireland, lay motionless, the defendant quickly disappeared into the crowd and then removed his balaclava and hood before he “callously” returned to the ground and watched the first leg of the semi-final tie on April 24 last year.
He flew back to Italy the next day and remained at large until he was arrested in October and placed under house arrest following painstaking inquiries by Merseyside Police to identify his movements from CCTV footage.
Mastrelli fought extradition in several appeals before he was finally brought to the UK last month.
On Thursday, he was produced from custody at Preston Crown Court and pleaded guilty to unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on Mr Cox.
The court heard Mr Cox was undergoing treatment at Ireland’s National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire for a “profound” brain injury which had left him unable him to communicate his needs, wants and wishes.
Prosecutor Keith Sutton said sales director Mr Cox was before the incident “a busy husband and father of three children with a wide circle of friends and many active interests” who would be unlikely to live independently again.
His daughter, Shauna, 20, entered the witness box to read out a victim personal statement as Mastrelli watched on from the dock, flanked by an interpreter.
She said: “Before this brutal and vicious attack my dad was a fit and confident man, a man of integrity with a huge passion for life who represented everything which is good.
“A mentor, a proud family man with great community spirit.
“This violent and unprovoked attacked left dad in a dire situation.
“His future is uncertain. We don’t know how he will progress and that really frightens us.
“Over the past 10 months we have spent all our time at dad’s bedside and have celebrated birthdays and Christmas when all we want is our dad to be home.
“We hope and pray every day to see improvement in our dad. The focus is on getting dad the proper care he needs.
“My dad went to watch his beloved team, Liverpool, and he never came home.”
Sentencing, the Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, told Mastrelli: “There is no doubt in my mind that you went to the stadium as a group to sort out the Liverpool supporters and in doing so you have destroyed the life of an innocent man and his family.
“This was on any view a dreadful offence. It has had a profound impact on Mr Cox and his family.”
Outside court, Mr Cox’s wife Martina said: “Today brings to a close to the court process. However the effects of the attack on Sean will remain with us for a lifetime.
“While it is pleasing to know that Mr Mastrelli will serve three-and-a-half years, he has given Sean and our family a life sentence.
“I would like to thank the police and all those that have been involved in the case and to all who have given us so much support.”
Earlier the Cox family were praised by the judge for their commitment and dedication to Mr Cox.
Judge Brown said: “They are facing the future with with huge courage and determination.”
Alison Gurden, defending, said Mastrelli was a family man himself and was “distraught” at the suffering he had caused.
She said: “He is a man who over the past few months has appreciated the impact it has had. He is a Catholic and has taken Communion since the incident. He has attended church whenever possible to try to atone.”
A separate count of violent disorder against Mastrelli was allowed to lie on file by the Crown Prosecution Service after it accepted his not guilty plea to the charge.
Another Roma fan, Filippo Lombardi, 21, was cleared of inflicting grievous bodily harm on Mr Cox in October, though he was jailed for three years for violent disorder.
A third man, Daniele Sciusco, 29, from Rome, admitted violent disorder ahead of the match and was jailed for two-and-a-half years in August 2018.
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