Jermain Defoe has said he was “appalled” by the actions of a football supporter who mocked the death of mascot Bradley Lowery.
Dale Houghton 31, pleaded guilty to a public order offence at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court on Monday after pictures circulated on X, formerly known as Twitter, showed him laughing while holding up a picture of Bradley to the camera at a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.
Sunderland fan Bradley captured the nation’s heart during his battle with neuroblastoma, but succumbed to the illness aged six in 2017.
He was a mascot for his club and, in the months before his death, led England out at Wembley alongside former Black Cats striker Defoe.
Speaking to MailOnline on Monday, Defoe said Bradley was “one of the most inspirational children this world has ever seen”.
“I’m appalled and saddened by the actions of the individual in question,” he said.
“My thoughts at this time go out to Gemma and Carl, Bradley’s parents, who shouldn’t have to deal with incidents like this, but rather be praised for the amazing work they are doing with the Bradley Lowery Foundation in their son’s memory.
“I urge the public to stand behind the family and continue to support the foundation and its projects.
“Bradley was one of the most inspirational children this world has ever seen, and he will never stop inspiring us.
“We love and miss you Brad. Love, your best friend forever.”
Houghton, from Rotherham, was bailed and will be sentenced on November 17.
District Judge James Gould told him “your actions are utterly deplorable” and that all sentencing options were open, including a prison term.
Judge Gould said he had seen the photograph circulated after Friday night’s match at Hillsborough.
He told Houghton: “You are holding up your phone and you were plainly revelling in what you were doing.”
The defendant, with blond hair and a beard, sat in the dock flanked by two security officers and was wearing a pink coat over a grey sweatshirt and joggers.
He listened as prosecutor Jade Scott read out part of a handwritten statement from Bradley’s mother Gemma, who said: “This image has made me feel so many emotions, I find it hard to put into words.”
She said it was “disrespectful” to her son but also to other children who were suffering from cancer.
Ms Lowery said: “I feel upset that these two men have used this image of Bradley to get a reaction from the Sunderland fans.”
Judge Gould noted that the statement went on to describe the incident as “unforgiveable” and that “she has nothing but loving memories of Bradley”.
Ms Scott told the court that Houghton, of Black Moor Road, Wickersley, gave “full and frank admissions” when he was interviewed by police.
She said he told the officers he was taking part in “enjoyable banter” and “that was the reason he was smiling”.
Constance Coombs, defending, said her client was “disgusted by what he did”.
She said there had been “mutual goading” between the Wednesday and Sunderland fans and he “took it too far”.
She said the Sunderland fans were waving Sheffield United badges at the home fans and “my client took the deplorable decision to show the picture of Bradley Lowery”.
Ms Coombs said it was “out of character” and “he’s very remorseful for his actions”.
The solicitor said her client was a window-fitter and he had lost his job as a result of what he did.
She added: “His behaviour was totally unacceptable.
“It may be alcohol plays more in relation to the offence than he may have originally have recognised.”
Houghton admitted intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress by displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
He was given bail on condition that he does not attend regulated football grounds in the UK, does not go within a mile of Hillsborough Stadium on Sheffield Wednesday matchdays and completes a drug intervention programme.
Houghton left the court by a back door with security staff helping him into a waiting black car as he concealed his face with the hood of his coat.
A fundraising page set up by Sheffield Wednesday fans after the incident has raised more than £18,500.
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