A RELIEVED footballer walked free from court after being cleared of deliberately breaking his opponent's jaw during a heated match.

Grays Athletic defender Jamie Stuart, 31, admitted fracturing York City striker Chris Beardsley's jaw in two places after he elbowed him in the face during a league match at Grays New Recreation Ground in Bridge Road, but insisted it had been an accident.

At Basildon Crown Court on Friday the jury acquitted Stuart of causing Mr Beardsley grievous bodily harm on September 22 last year.

Speaking after the hearing the Grays captain, who has played for Southend and England under 21s, said: "It is a huge relief for my partner and my children. It has been hard for me but it is harder for them.

"Now I can just get on with playing football and doing my job.

"I always said at the beginning that it was an accident and I haven't lied. I still make that claim.

"I am sorry for the injury I caused Mr Beardsley but I am so glad the trial is over so I can now move on."

Just hours after the first day of the trial Stuart played in a conference clash against Crawley Town at Broadfield Stadium in which Grays Athletic were defeated 2-1.

Stuart, who has been playing professional football since the age of 15 and was signed by Charlton at the age of 17 gave evidence and said Mr Beardsley, 24, had been tugging at his shirt and was hurt when he threw his arm back in an effort to break free.

The father of two, of Knole Gate, Sidcup, denied Mr Beardsley's claims that before the incident during the 19th minute of the match he struck him across the shoulders, stood on his feet and kicked him in his Achilles heel.

Mr Beardsley, who needed three metal plates inserted into his jaw, also gave evidence and admitted he didn't actually see Stuart strike him and could only recall feeling a sharp pain to his jaw before collapsing on the pitch in agony.