UK

Offensive football fans warned they face match bans for abuse about tragedies

(PA)
(PA) (PA)

Football fans could be banned from games, including next year’s European Championships, if they mock tragedies such as the Hillsborough disaster, the Munich air crash, Bradford Fire or the death of Emiliano Sala in a plane crash.

Updated Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance is seeking to tackle tragedy-related abuse which is when fans sing, chant or gesture offensive messages about disasters or accidents involving players or fans.

The guidance, which helps prosecutors as they make legal decisions on cases, restates that tragedy-related abuse can be seen as a public order offence.

Hillsborough Memorial
Hillsborough Memorial The Hillsborough Memorial (Peter Byrne/PA)

The move has been backed by the chief executives of the Football Association, Premier League and English Football League.

The guidance also sets out how lawyers can apply for Football Banning Orders. These can stop fans attending matches and impose other restrictions such as on travel to certain areas and during tournaments or being allowed in pubs at game time.

Douglas Mackay, of the CPS, said: “A small minority of so-called fans are both damaging the reputation of the sport and more importantly this offending has a devastating impact on the families of victims of tragedies and the communities connected closely to these events.”

He added: “We want supporters to passionately enjoy our national sport without crossing the line into criminality.”

As the new football season kicks off, the CPS, police, clubs, player bodies and the Premier League, English Football League, Women’s Super League, Women’s Championship, National Football League and the national referee organisation are aiming to explain to football fans the impact of this behaviour and the punishment they could face if they commit a crime.

60th Anniversary Of The Munich Air Disaster
60th Anniversary Of The Munich Air Disaster The wreckage of the British European Airways plane which crashed in Munich on February 6, 1958 (PA)

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the organisation is working closely with the CPS and welcomed the effort to tackle the “mindless and vicious chanting that unfortunately a minority of supporters engage in”.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham described tragedy-related abuse as “completely unacceptable”, adding: “This behaviour is highly offensive and can have a lasting effect on the families, friends and communities who have been devastatingly impacted by these events.”

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: “We strongly believe there is no room for abhorrent tragedy abuse in football.

“Along with our clubs and the authorities, we are committed to sanctioning those found guilty and will also focus on educating fans of all ages, so they understand why this abuse is so hurtful and unacceptable.”

Trevor Birch, English Football League chief executive, said: “There is absolutely no place for football tragedy abuse in any walk of life, so that is why the game and authorities, including the CPS, are introducing strong new measures to combat this behaviour.”

James White court case
James White court case James White arriving at Willesden Magistrates’ Court (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Recent months have seen several successful prosecutions.

Ninety-seven football fans died as a result of a crush at an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on April 15 1989.

An inquest jury ruled in 2016 that the victims of Hillsborough were unlawfully killed amid a number of police errors.

Louise Brookes, 51, the sister of a football fan who died in the Hillsborough disaster fought back tears in court in June as she told an internet troll who said he wanted to defecate on her brother’s grave that he is a “sickening” coward.

She was speaking at London’s Stratford Magistrates’ Court as Zakir Hussain, 28, of Ilford, was given a 14-week jail sentence that was suspended for a year after posting numerous hateful tweets on a social networking site in April 2020 and tagging her into some of them.

He also made racist comments about the supporters of another Premier League football club.

In June, Manchester United fan James White, 33, of Warwickshire, chuckled in the dock of the court after receiving a four-year football ban having admitted to wearing a football shirt at Wembley Stadium which made an offensive reference to the Hillsborough disaster.

He had pleaded guilty to displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress at Willesden Magistrates’ Court in north-west London.

Tottenham fan Kieron Darlow, 25, of Welwyn, was also banned from attending football matches for three years after being found guilty of mocking the Hillsborough disaster.

He made a gesture towards Liverpool fans at the Liverpool v Spurs Premier League game at Anfield on April 30.

Darlow admitted that he made the gesture to suggest that fans without tickets had pushed forward in the tragedy and had been partly to blame for the crush that led to so many deaths, the CPS said.

Emiliano Sala file photo
Emiliano Sala file photo A tribute to  Emiliano Sala (Aaron Chown/PA)

Seven Manchester United footballers were among 21 people killed when their plane crashed in Munich in February 1958.

In May 1985, 56 football fans died after fire destroyed the main grandstand during a football match between Bradford City and Lincoln City.

Footballer Emiliano Sala, 28, was flying from Nantes in France to Wales to join then Premier League club Cardiff City when the plane crashed in the English Channel close to Guernsey in January 2019, also killing 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson.