Former England footballer Paul Gascoigne has been cleared of sexually assaulting a woman on a train.
The 52-year-old had been accused of “forcefully and sloppily” kissing the fellow passenger on a service from York to Newcastle in August 2018.
Mr Gascoigne wept in the dock and thanked the jury to cheers of “yes” from the public gallery as the verdict was announced.
He was also cleared of the lesser charge of assault by beating.
Judge Peter Armstrong told Gascoigne: “You are now discharged and free to go.” He was told he could apply to have his defence costs paid.
Leaving Teesside Crown Court, the former Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Rangers, Middlesbrough and Everton midfielder thanked the judge and his dentist – an apparent reference to evidence earlier in the trial about him not having his false teeth in when he was on the train.
His solicitor Imogen Cox read a statement on his behalf, saying: “To have a sexual allegation for over 12 months has been tough.
“I am so glad I was finally able to put over my side of the story and that the jury came to the correct verdict.
“I’m now looking forward to getting on with my life.”
Gascoigne himself then said: “I am off to the dentist.”
In a tweet Mr Gascoigne’s personal manager Katie Davies, who has been with him on all four days of the trial, said the verdicts had “restored her faith in humanity”.
It emerged that during legal argument in the absence of the jury, the prosecution tried and failed to be allowed to tell the jury about Gascoigne’s previous convictions, which include offences of battery, criminal damage and racially aggravated harassment.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it had considered the charge before the case.
A spokesperson said: “We reviewed the case in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and it was determined that there was a realistic prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to prosecute Mr Gascoigne for the offence of sexual assault.”
Mr Gascoigne had told the court he gave the woman a “peck on the lips” to “boost her confidence” after he heard a male passenger call her overweight.
However, prosecutor William Mousley had told the jury that the accused had “lied, and lied, and lied” during the trial, which heard he had been drunk on board the train.
But Michelle Heeley QC, defending, said the former player had no sexual intention.
She said: “In his own naive way, he thought he was making a larger woman have more body confidence.
“It’s a clumsy way to go about building someone’s confidence, but it was not sexual.”
Jurors were handed a file of photos showing Mr Gascoigne kissing and being kissed by famous footballers and fans.
A photo of him kissing Diana, Princess of Wales, was also shown to the jury.
Mr Gascoigne broke down as he told the court about what happened on the journey from Birmingham to Newcastle, on 20 August last year.
The former footballer, who had been travelling with his nephews, said while passengers were asking for selfies and autographs he heard a man say about a passenger: “What do you want a photo of her for? She’s fat and ugly.”
Mr Gascoigne told the jury he had previously had trouble with his weight and “automatically” went to sit next to the woman to reassure her.
He said he told her: “You’re not fat and ugly, you’re beautiful.”
Mr Gascoigne was in a “drunken state” when he was arrested, the court was told – although he said he had had pellets implanted in his stomach that made him sick if he drank spirits, and denied being drunk.
British Transport Police PC Robert Moody said Mr Gascoigne had been drinking beer in a hotel lobby when he arrived to arrest him.
PC Moody said he had spoken to him before travelling to the hotel, telling jurors Mr Gascoigne had said: “I know what it’s about, I kissed a fat lass.”