A West Bromwich Albion fan has become the first person in Britain who will serve time in jail for racially abusing a footballer on social media, after being sentenced to eight weeks for a message posted about Baggies midfielder Romaine Sawyers.
Following the sentencing, Sawyers urged his fellow players to report all abuse they see online to police and issued a renewed plea to social media companies to do more to tackle racism on their platforms.
West Brom supporter Simon Silwood, 50, targeted Sawyers following Albion’s 5-0 defeat by Manchester City in January.
Silwood’s claim during the trial that his phone had autocorrected his intended message from ‘buffoon’ to ‘baboon’ was dismissed in court. He denied the racism allegations but was found to not be a credible witness.
Silwood will serve half of his sentence behind bars and the remainder on licence. He was also ordered to pay £500 in compensation to the player, which Sawyers will donate to charity, and £500 in prosecution costs.
Simon Silwood (right) has been jailed for eight weeks at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court
The 50-year-old claimed predictive text had changed the word ‘buffoon’ to ‘baboon’ when he made a comment about West Brom player Romaine Sawyers – but police proved the mistake was not possible
Silwood was also ordered to pay £500 in compensation to the player
Silwood had been banned for life by West Brom after his conviction was confirmed last month at Walsall Magistrates’ Court.
Sawyers, along with West Brom, welcomed Silwood’s punishment. He said: ‘Racial abuse towards anyone, in any circumstance, is totally unacceptable and I hope this case will serve as a deterrent to others.
‘This is an incident that has affected me deeply, but I would like to encourage fellow players to report all racial abuse to the police. We must together stand strong in order to rid the game and wider society of this hideous behaviour.
‘It is widely accepted that social media companies must do more to stop the publication of racism on their platforms. I again urge them to take the necessary action required to prevent anyone from receiving the abuse I experienced.’
Troy Townsend, head of player engagement at anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out, also welcomed the sentence.
‘While footballers continue to experience hate and abuse online, it is reassuring to see the individuals responsible being held to account for their actions,’ he added.
‘We encourage all other authorities to take similar cases just as seriously, and we hope this proves a genuine step towards ensuring that there are severe consequences for spreading racism and discrimination in any form, whether online or in stadiums.’
Gareth Southgate who along with his England players has led a high-profile campaign against discrimination, said last night: ‘It’s important that we do take online abuse — the abuse in general society — very seriously.
West Brom have issued a lifetime ban to Silwood (right), who was found guilty of racially abusing Romaine Sawyers (left) in January
‘We want a tolerant society and I think that’s where we’re heading. For me, they are the important messages.’
Sentencing at Birmingham Magistrates Court, District Judge Briony Clarke told Silwood there was ‘no place for racism online’ and that he had showed little remorse.
Silwood was arrested following an investigation by PC Stuart Ward – the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer.
West Bromwich Albion had reported the message to West Midlands Police and he was traced and arrested on the same day.
The club has since banned Silwood from matches for life.
Following the case, PC Ward said: ‘Abusing anyone for the colour of their skin is disgusting and can never, ever be condoned.
‘There’s no place for racism in football or society in general.
‘Silwood is old enough to know such appalling behaviour is not only wrong, but is absolutely deplorable.
‘Sadly we’ve seen a rise in online hate crime over the last 12 months and we won’t hesitate to take action against those responsible, as this case shows.
‘As part of my role I’m working with partners to change this unacceptable culture of abuse and this includes education around discrimination.
‘I know from personal experience how being a victim of racism hurts while offenders risk their own aspirations through getting a criminal record.
‘I would like to thank Romaine and West Bromwich Albion for their assistance during this investigation.’
Mark Johnson, of the CPS, said: ‘In the 21st Century, it should be incomprehensible how a so-called football fan can abuse a player based on race, let alone a player on the team he purports to support.
‘Silwood deliberately chose a word known to have clear racist connotations to abuse a footballer due to the colour of his skin.
‘Such behaviour will not be tolerated in football and will be prosecuted by the CPS. As this is a hate crime, we will apply for a harsher sentence to reflect that.
‘I would like to thank the witness for bringing Silwood’s post to the attention of West Bromwich Albion which then reported it to the West Midlands Police.’
Elizabeth Jenkins, of the CPS, added: ‘There is no room in the game, nor elsewhere, for racism.
‘Where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest, we will prosecute such cases and seek an increased sentenced on conviction.
‘Hate crimes such as these have a massive impact on players and their mental health.
‘The CPS takes this kind of offending very seriously and this case shows that where offensive content is reported to the police we can successfully bring offenders to justice.’