Published: 18:10, 08 February 2018
A woman has been cleared of blackmailing a brother of England footballer Daniel Sturridge after he sent her an intimate photo of himself.
Magdelena Spratek was alleged to have demanded £15,000 “with menaces” from Leon Sturridge on October 24 2016.
The 30-year-old teaching assistant, of Longshaw Road, Park Wood, Maidstone, was due to stand trial this week.
But she walked free from at Maidstone Crown Court after a judge was told Mr Sturridge was not available to give evidence.
Prosecutor Ian Foinette said Mr Sturridge had indicated his partner had given birth on February 5 and he was not going to be available to either attend court or be on a TV link from Birmingham Crown Court.
“Therefore, he would not be giving evidence,” said Mr Foinette.
“I understand his partner has a seven-year-old child as well and he is assisting her with the care of both of them.”
Mr Foinette at first asked for the trial to be adjourned but later offered no evidence against Miss Spratek.
Chetna Patel, defending, had previously said Mr Sturridge would be required to give evidence in the case as there would be questions about their relationship.
Miss Spratek was alleged to have blackmailed Mr Sturridge after he sent her a photo of his manhood.
The prosecution claimed she would expose him to the media if he did not pay up.
Judge Charles Macdonald QC refused an application from the prosecution to adjourn the trial and recorded a not guilty verdict.
He described Mr Sturridge, whose 28-year-old brother recently transferred on loan from Liverpool to West Bromwich Albion, as “a reluctant witness who wasn't playing”.
The trial had already been delayed and a witness summons was issued for Mr Sturridge.
At a previous hearing, prosecutor Vivian Walters said Liverpool fan Miss Spratek became friends Mr Sturridge, with contact on social media and meeting on at least one occasion.
Their conversations, she said, were “friendly and flirtatious'”.
In October 2016 Mr Sturridge indicated he was going to send “a naughty photo” to her.
Miss Spratek, who works at a nursery school, then received the image.
"The following day he got a message from a different social media account he didn't recognise, demanding money or the photograph would be supplied to the media," said Miss Walters.
"Mr Sturridge reported it to police and the defendant was arrested.”
Investigations revealed the money was to be paid into Miss Spratek's bank account.
Miss Spratek was to claim in her defence that the demand was made by a third party, who she named, without her knowledge.
Judge Macdonald said he was doubtful whether Mr Sturridge would ever attend court.
"There is no evidence at all as to why he cannot find someone else to look after this child or leave the child temporarily with the partner, who has an apparently healthy newborn to look after - a situation faced by countless mothers in this country and abroad all the time," he said.
"There is no proper explanation for his third failure to attend. The defendant, apart from when she was ill, has repeatedly co-operated and surrendered for trial.
"The complainant has failed to draw any attention to any difficulty with this date. I think the truth of this matter is that he is a reluctant witness and I am doubtful he will ever attend, and so an adjournment would be unreasonable.
"The complainant is the trouble here. He is not playing."
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