A man has been sentenced after being found guilty of posting racist abuse about England players on social media on the night of the Euro 2020 final in July of last year.
Shortly after England’s defeat to Italy at Wembley, Hugh Laidlaw, a 50-year-old man from Reading, posted an offensive image and comments targeted at the three players who missed penalties in the shootout on the Metal Detecting UK Facebook page.
At Reading Magistrates’ Court, Laidlaw was found guilty of sending by a public communication network an offensive message. He was given an eight-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay a fine of £1000, costs of £775 and a surcharge of £128.
Laidlaw was reported to police by members of the Facebook group after the post went live. When questioned by police, Laidlaw claimed that he had accidently shared what he thought was a funny post after having a few drinks, then tried to pretend that his account had been hacked to distance himself from the post.
Senior Crown Prosecutor Benjamin May of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Hugh Laidlaw’s hateful and racist post was a direct attack on England’s players, and those who it was shared with were left disgusted and upset.
“Racist abuse won’t be tolerated and, as this case has shown, where offensive content is reported to the police and our legal tests are met, we can successfully bring offenders to justice.”
CPS sports lead prosecutor Douglas Mackay said: “Over recent years and months, hate crimes relating to sporting events have been on the rise.
“At the CPS, we play a crucial role in tackling these crimes and making our national sport inclusive and safe to watch. There is no place for hate in football and hate crimes such as this have a significant impact on victims.”
In June, a shocking report released by FIFA and FIFPRO revealed that more than half the players who played in the most recent Euro 2020 and AFCON finals were abused online before, during and after the game.
Homophobic abuse was the most common, with racism second, and though world football’s governing body are not naming names, Sky Sports News understands the most abused players in the Euro 2020 final were Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who both missed from the spot as England lost to Italy on penalties at Wembley last July.
In both tournaments, most of the abuse originated from the home nation of the players being targeted – 38 per cent from the UK and 19 per cent from Egypt after they were also beaten on penalties by Senegal in February’s AFCON final.
In response, FIFA and FIFPRO, the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers, say they will launch a dedicated in-tournament moderation service across men’s and women’s football during this winter’s World Cup “that will scan recognised hate speech terms published to identified social media accounts, and once detected, prevent that comment from being seen by the recipient and their followers.”
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