Belfast Telegraph

Student jailed for Muamba comments

By Antony Stone

A student who mocked footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed during a match was jailed today for inciting racial hatred.

Liam Stacey, 21, provoked revulsion with comments made while the Bolton star still lay on the pitch.

The 23-year-old midfielder was left fighting for his life after suffering a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup tie on March 17.

Horrified fans watched live on TV as he fell to the ground during the quarter-final clash at Tottenham.

Police were inundated with complaints as members of the public reported the student's comments.

Stacey, a Swansea University biology undergraduate, was quickly tracked down and arrested.

Last week he admitted inciting racial hatred when he appeared briefly at Swansea Magistrates' Court and today he was jailed for 56 days at the same court.

The first of Stacey's messages began with "LOL (laugh out loud). **** Muamba. He's dead!!!"

A number of people took him to task for his views and he responded with a further string of offensive comments aimed at other Twitter users.

Stacey was close to tears during his appearance before magistrates last week.

Muamba's recovery since suffering a cardiac arrest 10 days ago has been described as "miraculous".

He remains in intensive care in hospital where his condition is described as serious but stable.

Stacey broke down as he was taken away in handcuffs to a holding cell beneath Swansea Magistrates' Court.

He was led past the public gallery, where he was briefly embraced by friends and his parents as he shook with emotion.

Moments earlier, District Judge John Charles told him: "In my view there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence."

He said that when Muamba collapsed, "it was not the football world who was praying for him... everybody was praying for his life".

He added that abusive remarks made to Stacey "via a social networking site were instigated as a result of vile and abhorrent comments made as a result of a young man who was fighting for his life".

Earlier, Stacey, dressed in a smart brown suit with matching tie, was seen to visibly tremble as the prosecutor argued that the case should be sent to Crown Court for sentencing.

Louise Barron gave a summary of the case against Stacey, which included reading out a series of racist comments he posted.

She said that, when arrested, Stacey made an immediate admission of his guilt and said he had been drunk at the time.

The court heard that, on the day in question, he had been out watching Wales's rugby grand slam victory.

He had drunk up to eight pints of beer and described his drunkenness as an eight on a scale of one to 10.

Ms Barron went on to argue that the case was so serious that the maximum penalty of six months in prison available in a Magistrates' Court was not enough.

"The Crown would argue that the matter should be committed to the Crown Court for sentence," she said.

She added that the "gratuitous, persistent abuse" and the "racist element" meant the case should be dealt with at a higher level.

Gareth Jones, defending, said Stacey "is completely ashamed of his behaviour that evening".

He said that reaction to his comments had been widespread, he was no longer welcome at the university campus and he "feared reprisals".

He insisted that Stacey, who has an otherwise clean character, is not a racist and has friends from other ethic backgrounds.

"On the night in question his comments were vile, he admits that," he said.

He added that, although the comments portray him as a "bigot", he was actually "a kind and caring person", who felt "genuine remorse".

He asked the judge to leave Stacey, a third year biology student, at liberty to allow him to take final exams.

He said he was doing "extremely well" on his course and had ambitions to become a forensic scientist.

He added that that was now very unlikely and he would already "pay dearly for the rest of his life" for what he had done.

In jailing Stacey today, the judge said he took into account his early plea and the fact that he had been "in drink" at the time.

But the revulsion that his comments triggered was both widespread and deeply felt.

Former footballer Stan Collymore was among the many who saw Stacey's initial tweet and complained to the police.

Other undergraduates at Swansea campaigned for him to be dismissed from the university completely.

He is still the subject of an internal investigation.

A spokesman said today: "The student remains suspended from the university pending the conclusion of our disciplinary proceedings."

Stacey's sentence prompted a heated debate on Twitter.

Among those applauding the judge's decision was Lord Sugar, who tweeted: "good job, be warned idiots".

Others claimed the decision was too harsh given the student's previously clean criminal record.

But Jim Brisbane, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Cymru-Wales, said racist language was inappropriate in any setting and through any media.

He added: "We hope this case will serve as a warning to anyone who may think that comments made online are somehow beyond the law."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph