A West Bromwich Albion fan has been found guilty of racially abusing footballer Romaine Sawyers on social media by suggesting the midfielder should win the “Baboon d’Or”.
Simon Silwood posted the message on a “sarcastic” fan zone Facebook group titled “Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or” following his team’s 5-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Hawthorns on January 26, Walsall Magistrates’ Court was told.
The 50-year-old denied the offence and told police his message on the group was “stupid not racial” and said autocorrect had changed the word “buffoon” to “baboon”.
On Thursday, District Judge Bryony Clarke said Silwood was “not a credible witness” – adding that the defendant meant the post to be “grossly offensive”.
West Bromwich Albion released a statement following the trial, saying he had been handed a lifetime ban.
The court heard that Sawyers, who is currently on loan at Stoke City and was reporting a separate alleged racist social media post when he was shown Silwood’s message, was left feeling “harassed, alarmed and distressed” after reading it.
The defendant was charged following an investigation carried out by Pc Stuart Ward, who is the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit.
Giving her verdict to the court, the judge said: “I determine the defendant is not being truthful for a number of reasons.
“There were vague answers given in his evidence.
“When asked, ‘why didn’t you go on (the post) the next day’ he said ‘thousands of fans go on there’ which didn’t make sense.
“He was simply attempting to avoid the question.
“I find that Mr Silwood was not a credible witness.
“I’m sure that the defendant sent the message… and I’m sure that he meant it to be grossly offensive.”
The CPS said it would be applying for a harsher sentence to reflect the fact that Silwood has been convicted of a hate crime.
Opening the case, prosecutor Simon Brownsey said his case was that the message posted by Silwood to a West Bromwich Albion Fan Zone Facebook group “was intentionally posted and was blatant racism towards black professional footballer Mr Romaine Sawyers.
“On January 26 2021, a post was placed saying ‘Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or’.
“Three posts were placed on that thread. The first one said ‘bellend’. The second was ‘white lives matter when you try and watch’.
“The third post, from Mr Silwood, said ‘Baboon dor’.”
Mr Brownsey continued: “He confirmed that he sent the message on social media but said he did not intend the post to be racist.
“He was upset with how the game went.
“Having seen the message ‘Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or’, he believed he had typed ‘buffoon dor’ not ‘baboon dor’.
“Mr Silwood is aware that referring to Mr Sawyers as a baboon would be racist and deeply offensive.”
In a statement provided to the court, Sawyers said: “On Friday January 29, I attended the Hawthorns to provide a statement to the police regarding a separate incident where I was racially abused on Instagram.
“I was made aware of another incident regarding the colour of my skin.
“I knew what I was about to look at was going to be of an abusive nature.
“As I read it, I felt numb and did not know what to say. Having seen the word baboon I assumed it was referring to the colour of my skin.
“The word has left me feeling harassed, alarmed and distressed and I find the message to be racist based on the colour of my skin.
“The whole incident has left me extremely upset.
“I find it difficult to believe that in 2021 there are still people out in society who believe it is acceptable to behave like this.
“I find it even more disgusting that this comment was made on social media by someone sat behind a computer or a mobile phone.”
Following the trial, a spokesman for West Bromwich Albion Football Club said: “The club welcomes the guilty verdict and has issued a lifetime ban to the person in question.
“West Bromwich Albion has a proud history of fighting all forms of discrimination and our message to supporters is clear; racism is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the club.
“We will continue to work with West Midlands Police to ensure all instances of racism, either at The Hawthorns or online, are reported. Anyone who is found guilty of such an offence will be banned from the club for life.
“Albion will continue to campaign for social media companies to take greater responsibility for the online hate published on their platforms.”
Silwood left the court following the guilty verdict continuing to protest his innocence, while holding hands with a woman believed to be his wife.
The defendant, of Randall Close, Kingswinford, West Midlands, will be sentenced at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on September 30.
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