“You have sadly brought, once again, the occupation of being a professional footballer in to disrepute,” a judge told a Rovers star as he sentenced him for sexually assaulting a woman in a bar.
The Recorder of Sheffield, Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, sentenced 22-year-old Doncaster Rovers defender, Niall Mason, to six months in prison, suspended for two years for the offence.
Mason, of Bawtry Road, Hatfield Woodhouse has also been placed on the sex offenders' register for a period of seven years.
Judge Richardson told Mason during the hearing held at Sheffield Crown Court today: "You have not only let yourself down by this disgraceful conduct, but you have also let down your fellow football players.
"People look up to footballers, rightly or wrongly, particularly the young; and they will see this reported in the newspapers. What a dreadful example this will set.”
The court heard how Mason carried out the sexual assault on a stranger, who was sat next to him after being invited to the private party he was attending at the Pangea bar in Bawtry during the early hours of February 18 last year.
“The defendant grabbed the woman's hair and pulled her towards him. She tried to move away, and he continued to pull her hair. She told him: ‘I've got a boyfriend’,” said prosecutor, Gordon Stables, adding that this took place as the woman was sat talking to her friend.
Mr Stables described how Mason then proceeded to slip his hand up the woman's jumper and began to rub the skin on her back, before moving his hand away and telling the woman to 'cover up’.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, ignored Mason, and readjusted her jumper.
Mr Stables said Mason then put his hand up the woman's jumper once again, but this time fondled the woman's right breast underneath her bra.
“The woman was completely shocked; taken aback and just froze. She told her her friend: ‘he’s touching me’ and her friend smacked his hand away,” said Mr Stables.
The woman subsequently told the bar’s door staff about the sex assault, and as a consequence, door staff told Mason, and the party he was with, that the bar was now closed for the evening.
She reported the offence to police later that evening.
When questioned by police, the court was told how Mason admitted to drinking and to being at the bar, but denied the sexual assault had taken place.
Mr Stables said: “The bra was sent off for examination, and a sample from the right side was taken. The DNA matched that of the complainant and the defendant.”
The court was told how in the hours before the sexual assault, a friend of Mason’s approached the complainant’s friend and told her: “How about my mate over there,” and pointed to Mason.
The complainant’s friend said she was not interested, and that she had a boyfriend, but the man persisted and told her Mason was a professional footballer who ‘earned £4,000 a week’.
Later that evening, the complainant was invited to join the private party Mason was attending by a woman she knew; and subsequently sat down next to Mason.
In a victim personal statement read to the court, the woman said the incident had left her feeling ‘devastated’ and ‘hysterical’; and had caused her to question whether she was responsible because she sat down next to Mason and put herself ‘in that situation’.
She said: “I have often thought what I would do in a situation like this, and I’ve always thought I would shout, react, confront them. The reality is I just froze.
“I told him no on more than one occasion. I’ve hardly slept since this happened.”
In response to the woman’s personal statement, Judge Richardson said: “I want to make it absolutely plain...that no blame whatsoever attaches to the young woman who was victim to this criminality.
“No young woman should ever have to endure that when it is without her consent.”
Mason pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault earlier today, when his trial was scheduled to start.
Gul Nawaz Hussain QC, defending, described Mason as a footballer who was doing 'respectably’ and had ‘everything to aim for’.
“This type of behaviour is completely alien to the man that Niall Mason is 99 per cent of the time,” said Mr Hussain.
He added: “He has stopped going out. His partner is here in court, as are his friends, his agent and representatives from the club. They have continued to show him support, and have had no reason to suspect him capable of something like this.”
Judge Richardson also ordered Mason to pay costs of £2,800.
Speaking after the hearing, a spokesman for Rovers said: “The club has been aware of the allegation against Niall Mason dating to February 2018, which he has always strongly denied.
“He changed his plea immediately prior to Tuesday’s hearing, which resulted in the conviction.
“The club will consider its options, and will be making no further comment.”
The Football Association have been approached for comment.