West Bromwich Albion fan Simon Silwood has been jailed for eight weeks at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court for racially abusing midfielder Romaine Sawyers on social media.
Silwood, 50, from Kingswinford, West Midlands, was found guilty earlier this month of sending Sawyers a malicious communication. It is understood to be the first case in Britain where someone will actually serve prison time for racially abusing a footballer online.
The message was posted on January 26 after West Brom had lost 5-0 to Manchester City.
Silwood will serve half of his sentence in prison and half on licence and was also ordered to pay £500 in compensation to the player and £500 in prosecution costs.
Passing sentence, District Judge Briony Clarke said: “This is, Mr Silwood, a serious offence. There is no place for racism or racist abuse online. This clearly, in my view, crosses the custody threshold.
“I assess the remorse you have for your actions as very minimal indeed.”
Silwood, who has been banned from attending West Brom games for life, claimed at trial that when he posted the word “baboon”, he actually meant to use the word “buffoon”, but it was autocorrected on his phone while sending.
Commenting on the sentencing, Mark Johnson of the Crown Prosecution Service (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.
“CPS West Midlands is working closely with the West Midlands Police Force Football Unit and their dedicated Hate Crime Football Officer to ensure that individuals who commit these types of offences are brought to justice.”
The CPS added that it is currently working with the police, clubs, player bodies and organisations such as the Premier League, the EFL and the FA, to explain what evidence it needs to pass the threshold for charging.
Elizabeth Jenkins of the CPS said: “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.”
Kick It Out: Silwood sentencing reassuring
Sawyers is one of many players to have been subjected to racist abuse online in recent months, especially in the Premier League, and English football has been piling pressure on social media firms to do more to tackle the problem.
Troy Townsend, head of development at Kick It Out, football’s largest anti-racism organisation, said: “Kick It Out welcomes the sentence handed to Simon Silwood.
“Whilst footballers continue to experience hate and abuse online, it is reassuring to see individuals responsible being held to account for their actions.
“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.”
Hate won’t win
Sky Sports is committed to making skysports.com and our channels on social media platforms a place for comment and debate that is free of abuse, hate and profanity.
For more information, please visit: www.skysports.com/againstonlinehate
If you see a reply to Sky Sports posts and/or content with an expression of hate on the basis of race, sex, colour, gender, nationality, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexuality, age or class, please copy the URL to the hateful post and screengrab it and email us here.
Kick It Out reporting racism
Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.