Man fined £600 over T-shirt mocking Hillsborough tragedy
A 50-year-old man arrested for wearing a T-shirt mocking the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster has been fined £600 after admitting a public order offence.
Paul Grange told Worcester Magistrates' Court he was ashamed of what he had done and had deservedly lost his home, job, friends and relationship.
Grange - who pleaded guilty to a charge of displaying abusive writing likely to cause distress - was also ordered to pay a £60 victim surcharge and £135 in costs.
Representing himself in court, Grange told magistrates he now realised the hurt caused by a slogan on the T-shirt, which described the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy as "God's way of helping" a pest control firm.
Images of the shirt, which Grange openly wore in a pub beer garden on Sunday May 29, caused widespread anger on social media.
After hearing a victim impact statement from a woman whose brother died at Hillsborough, Grange, of Lower Wick, Worcester, told magistrates: "Hearing that statement, it's hit home, the personal effect of it.
"It (the T-shirt) was only supposed to be between friends. And until it went public I didn't realise how badly it affected people.
"Because of my own actions, I have lost my home, my job, my friends, my family and relationship. And it's deserved - I don't think it's any less than I deserve."
Grange shook and twitched continuously throughout the hearing, which was attended by a Liverpool fan wearing a replica shirt.
Opening the facts of the offence, prosecutor Karen Cockitt told magistrates: "Everybody in this courtroom will be aware of the Hillsborough disaster and the tragic events that occurred in 1989."
The defendant, Ms Cockitt said, had ordered the T-shirt from a printing firm and told police it was intended as "banter" with Liverpool supporters among his circle of friends.
At 2pm on May 29, the court heard, Grange went to the Brewer's Arms in Worcester to meet friends, while wearing the offensive garment.
Ms Cockitt said: "Whilst the defendant was in that pub, people did read the T-shirt, they did take offence to it and challenged the defendant over that wording.
"In fact, it reached the point that a member of staff evicted the defendant from the pub and banned him from there."
After a photograph of the T-shirt found its way onto social media, Ms Cockitt added, the police were contacted by several members of the public and he was arrested and interviewed on May 30.
The prosecutor told the court: "During that interview, the defendant accepted that he knew the T-shirt was likely to cause offence and some remorse was shown.
"He stated that it was supposed to be banter between him and his friends, who are Liverpool supporters. It was something that was meant to just be shared between the group."
In a statement read into the court record by Ms Cockitt, Louise Brookes - whose brother Andrew died at Hillsborough - said the offensive T-shirt had caused her hurt, anxiety and sleepless nights.
Ms Brookes, from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, said in her statement: "My concern is that this offence will not be dealt with seriously. For 27 years I have had to listen to and read of such hatred directed towards my family."
Passing sentence, chair of the bench Sue Dowty told Grange: "This offence carries a maximum penalty of a fine.
"In coming to the fine we have taken into account your remorse, balanced by the distress caused to people."
Magistrates ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the T-shirt and a second shirt bearing similar offensive comments.
Liverpool fan Julie Haines, originally from Birkenhead but now living in Worcestershire, attended the hearing.
Speaking outside court, Ms Haines, wearing a black Liverpool away shirt, said she hoped the prosecution would act as a deterrent.
"It has to send a very strong message that the people of Liverpool will not put up with this - that the CPS and the police will not put up with this," she told reporters.