Italian Simone Mastrelli jailed for assault on Irish fan Sean Cox
Italian national Simone Mastrelli (30) has been jailed at Preston Crown Court for three-and-a-half years for the assault of Sean Cox (53) outside Anfield ahead of a Champions League tie between Liverpool and Roma last April.
A separate count of violent disorder was allowed to lie on file by the Crown Prosecution Service after it accepted his not guilty plea to the charge.
Father-of-three Mr Cox, from Dunboyne in Co Meath, suffered catastrophic head injuries in the attack ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg tie between the two clubs on April 24 last year.
Mastrelli, who on Thursday pleaded guilty to the assault, was leading a group of between 50 and 60 Roma fans who wore the distinctive dark clothing of an unofficial body of supporters known as Ultras – many of whom covered up with hoods and balaclavas, and some who carried belts as weapons.
Mastrelli launched an unprovoked attack on Mr Cox, who was wearing a Liverpool scarf, and felled him with a single, heavy blow before he disappeared into the crowd of away supporters.
Sentencing, the Recorder of Preston Judge Mark Brown said: "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.
"Sean Cox and his brother Martin were lifelong Liverpool supporters and had travelled from Dublin to see the game. For them it had been a day of great excitement and undoubtedly it ended in the most appalling circumstances."
He said that "trouble erupted" shortly after the Roma group arrived in Walton Breck Road and Martin Cox had his arm around his brother's shoulder in a "happy and friendly way, taking in the scene".
He told Mastrelli: "You must have picked him [Sean Cox] out because of the Liverpool scarf. Your head and face were covered by a hood and a balaclava and you were in front of Mr Cox with both arms raised towards him in a somewhat aggressive or confrontational way."
Mastrelli then delivered the blow which knocked Mr Cox to the ground and turned away to check his face-covering was still concealing his identity. In the minutes that followed, he moved within the crowd and changed his appearance by removing the hood and face-covering and taking off his jacket.
Judge Brown went on: "You then went into the stadium to enjoy the match, which was particularly callous given what had just happened and what you had done to Mr Cox. The next day you returned to Italy.
"There was huge international publicity but you did not come forward."
Mr Cox was treated at the scene and then taken to the trauma unit at Aintree Hospital, where he fell into a coma.
Later the same evening he was transferred to the Walton Centre where doctors operated to alleviate bleeding on the brain.
Mr Cox could not be moved to Ireland until the end of May, and on August 18 had started to open his eyes spontaneously and make some verbal sounds, the court heard, but there was still no response to any external stimuli.
He was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire on October 3 with a "profound" brain injury with global cognitive and communicative impairment.
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.