Former football star Paul Gascoigne has described his sex assault accusation and trial as a "year of hell".
The 52-year-old was cleared of sexual assault, and of the lesser, alternative count of assault by beating on Thursday, after a four-day trial at Teesside Crown Court.
He was accused of forcefully and sloppily kissing a stranger while he was drunk on a York to Durham train in August 2018.
Gascoigne told the Sunday Mirror: "All I was doing was sticking up for the girl.
"I gave the girl a peck. I didn't mean anything sexual, I just heard what was said to her and wanted to help. If it was anyone else this would never have gone to court.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever been through. It's been a year of hell."
Gascoigne also told the paper he worked hard to stay sober throughout the process, adding: "In the last six months I've not touched a drop."
He also revealed he wanted to jump up in court and scream: “I’m no sex offender”.
In his first interview since being found not guilty of sexual assault, Gazza said he feared being branded “worse than Jeffrey Epstein” – Prince Andrew’s paedophile pal.
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When he was cleared, the former England player said he was "looking forward to getting on with my life".
Outside court, he smiled and stood beside his solicitor Imogen Cox as she 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."
He added: “I shouldn’t have to change the way I behave. I’ve been kissed six times this morning – does that mean I have been sexually assaulted?
“The last year has been a nightmare and I’ve worked hard to stay sober, in the last 6 months I’ve not touched a drop.
“I’ve been in trouble but nothing like this. I worried people would stop me going down the high street and shout abuse at me, or stop me from being around their kids.
“I was thinking, ‘Have I let the fans down?’ Being on the sex offenders list – that’s not me. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. There were times when I could have just f***ing locked the door, turned my phones off and just got bladdered.
“I’ve stayed strong – I’ve had to. Even talking about this I could walk out and go get p***ed now. But I know alcohol would make it worse.”
Michelle Heeley QC, defending, had argued that when Gascoigne kissed the stranger, there was no sexual intent.
She said the former player kissed a woman who was not expecting it and did not like it, but that did not make him a sex offender.
She said the kiss lasted two or three seconds, on a packed train, and was not preceded by any "lecherous comment", touching or groping.
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