Man given ‘landmark’ stadium ban for racially abusing Brentford striker

A man who racially abused Brentford striker Ivan Toney on social media has been banned from every football ground in the United Kingdom for three years.

It is the first banning order issued under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

Antonio Neill, 24, admitted sending an offensive message at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court in January.

Neill, of Blyth, Northumberland, was also handed a four-month jail sentence, suspended for two years.

As well as all matches in the UK, the banning order prevents Neill from travelling abroad to watch international friendlies, qualification matches and tournaments.

New legislation was brought in last year to widen the scope of banning orders for online hate crimes.

“Discrimination has absolutely no place in any society, whether out in our communities or online,” said Supt Scott Cowie, hate crime lead for Northumbria Police.

“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.”

Brentford manager Thomas Frank said he hopes the ruling shows social media companies that they can do “even more” to prevent abuse.

“It’s a very strong message,” said Frank. “Personally I’m very pleased that racial abuse is getting into court.

“I think the sentence is not hard enough, it could be harder – it’s a suspended sentence. But I think it’s a good step in the right direction to hopefully show the world that there’s no room for racial abuse.

“Hopefully it’s also a reminder to the social media companies that they can do even more. Also the situation with [Southampton’s Kyle] Walker-Peters, what he experienced also, it’s very sad. It’s a constant development area for society. We need to be very aware of that.”

A mugshot photo of Antonio Neill
Antonio Neill pleaded guilty to sending an offensive message and apologised to Ivan Toney at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court in January

Toney posted a screenshot of a direct message he received on Instagram in a Twitter post in October, with police treating the incident as a hate crime.

Neill apologised to Toney in court in January for sending the message, which was described by a judge as “exceptionally offensive” and with “racial overtones”.

Toney also received racist and abusive messages to his Instagram account after scoring the equaliser against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in January.

Brentford described the ban issued to Neill as a “landmark ruling”.

“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,” a Brentford statement said.

“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.”

Kick It Out, an organisation fighting discrimination in football, said: “Kick It Out welcomes the sentence handed to Antonio Neill today. This is a landmark decision which we hope will set the standard for similar cases going forward.

“As footballers continue to experience racism and discrimination on social media, we hope this can be an important step towards understanding that online behaviour has real-life consequences, both for the abusers and their victims.

“We would like to thank Northumbria Police and Brentford FC for their work in this case and for highlighting that online abuse has no place in our society.

“It is imperative that social media companies and the government now play their part by stepping up to introduce meaningful reforms and legislation that protects people from online abuse.”

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