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Man who abused Premier League footballer on social media banned from every stadium in the UK in landmark ruling
14 Mar | 09:26

Antonio Neill, 24, has been handed the first banning order for this type of online offence after sending an abusive message to Brentford striker Ivan Toney

A man who abused a Premier League footballer on social media has been banned from every stadium in the country in a landmark ruling.

Antonio Neill, 24, sent the racist message to Brentford striker Ivan Toney on October 14 last year.

After Toney shared a picture of the abuse received via his own social media account, Northumbria Police supported by the Metropolitan Police launched a full investigation.

The message, which officers treated as a hate crime, was traced to a suspect who was then living in the North Shields area.

On January 25, Neill, of Robert Street, Blyth, pleaded guilty to sending an offensive message when he appeared before magistrates in Newcastle.

Yesterday (Monday) at the same court, Neill was handed a four-month sentence suspended for two years for the online offence as well as a three-year football banning order – 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 relating to a person with a prescribed connection to a football organisation.

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.

“I would like to thank everyone who played their part in this particular case, including the team of officers who worked tirelessly to secure justice as well as our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police, the UK Football Policing Unit and the Premier League.”

The order forbids Neill from attending any regulated football match in the UK, which includes Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two and National League fixtures, as well as England home internationals.

The banning order also prevents him from travelling abroad to watch international friendlies, qualification matches and tournaments.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “Online racism has been traced back to our region and officers have made it more than clear our region won’t tolerate it.

"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.

"This is a first and I am proud of Northumbria’s involvement in making it happen.”

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, NPCC Lead for Football Policing, said: “This result makes it clear that there are real consequences for those people who think they can hide behind a keyboard to post hateful comments.

“I’m pleased the new legislation has enabled a banning order to be issued in this case, which shows that the police, CPS and the courts are taking these offences very seriously. Northumbria Police have been proactive in seeking this order and it shows we are taking a proactive approach.”

“I would urge others who are victims of online hate to come forward and report it to police so it can be investigated and action can be taken."

Following the hearing, a Brentford Football Club statement added: "Brentford FC is pleased to see the Antonio Neill case resolved and that Northumbria Police pursued this to a conclusion.

"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 club firmly believes there is no place for racial abuse in football and we continue to support and implement a zero-tolerance policy towards discriminatory behaviour of any kind.

"All authorities have their role to play in this and we, again, call upon the social media companies to make their platforms safe for all participants and to remove all hateful content."

If any member of the public sees, reads or hears offensive, racist or homophobic language at fixtures or online, please report it to police online or by calling 101.

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