A fan who racially abused Premier League footballer Ivan Toney online has been banned from every football ground in the country in a legal first.
Antonio Neill, 24, sent the abusive message to the Brentford striker in October and police began an investigation after Toney shared it on his social media.
The message, which officers treated as a hate crime, was traced to a suspect who was then living in the North Shields area.
Neill, of Robert Street, Blyth, Northumberland, pleaded guilty to sending an offensive message when he appeared at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court in January.
Northumbria Police said Neill appeared before the same court on Monday and was given a four-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, and a three-year football banning order.
The force said the banning order is the first of its kind to be issued under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
The legislation widened the scope for banning orders to be issued for online hate crimes that are linked to football.
Football banning orders were introduced to prevent the risk of violence around games, but this new development in the legislation brings a punitive element to the sentence.
While not condoning racism, some observers of the game have privately called for social media bans rather than football banning orders, and pointed out that Neill may effectively be prevented from visiting city centres on match days and have to surrender his passport when England play away.
After the case, Superintendent Scott Cowie, hate crime lead for Northumbria Police, said: “Discrimination has absolutely no place in any society, whether out in our communities or online.
“I am therefore delighted that the seriousness of Neill’s offence has been reflected with this banning order, the first of its kind to be issued in the UK.
“I hope this reinforces our commitment to taking action against anybody who commits a hate crime – it will not be tolerated and we will do all we can to put perpetrators before the courts.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: “If you are going to choose to be vile and abusive to others, doing it from behind a computer screen or on your phone doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it, far from it.
“As this case shows, Northumbria Police can track you down, and I hope this banning order demonstrates how seriously officers take hate matters and that it paves the way for other offenders to face similar punishment in future.”
After the case, Brentford FC said: “Court appearances set a strong precedent for anyone else who commits hate crimes and it is our hope that sentences increase in severity until this sort of crime is eradicated.
“Ivan Toney has been subject to sickening racist abuse on a regular basis, and we want to see tough action taken against anyone found guilty of such abuse.”
The Football Supporters’ Association said: “Inside our outside football grounds racist abuse is illegal and there are serious punishments for offenders.
“We’d encourage anyone who hears discriminatory abuse inside stadiums to use Kick It Out’s Report It app to ensure these incidents are recorded and, where appropriate, individuals are prosecuted.”
When Neill admitted the charge in January he apologised in court to the player and said: “I’m disgusted and ashamed and want to become a better person.”
Toney was called into the Three Lions squad for the first time in September last year but did not get onto the pitch for the Nations League matches against Italy and Germany.
Despite his consistent Premier League form, he was omitted when Gareth Southgate named his travelling party for Qatar.