Fan sentenced for Munich taunts
A teenager was handed a suspended jail term today for mocking the Munich air disaster in an official music video to mark his side's FA Cup game with Manchester United.
James Butler, 19, was spotted by United fans making offensive miming gestures about the 1958 tragedy after the video was posted on the internet.
The song was filmed at non-league Crawley Town's ground in West Sussex last month and was a reworking of The Specials' hit A Message To You, Rudy, adapted by musician Mike Dobie with the new title A Message To You, Rooney.
Crawley Town posted the video on their official website and YouTube to mark their clash with United at Old Trafford in the fifth round of the FA Cup on February 19, which United went on to win 1-0.
Only after complaints were raised by United fans did officials at Crawley realise that Butler was dancing by the stage making frequent aircraft gestures about the Munich tragedy.
He also held his fingers up to show one, nine, five and eight, to symbolise 1958, the year when 23 people died when the plane carrying United's team crashed on its way back from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade.
Butler, of Beeches Crescent, Crawley, pleaded guilty today to using threatening, abusive or insulting words with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress under the Public Order Act.
Sentencing him to eight weeks' prison, suspended for 12 months, chair of the bench Rosemary Scott, sitting at Crawley Magistrates' Court, said he had offended wide sections of the footballing community.
She said: "This was a deliberate and planned action targeted at a wider audience and considered grossly offensive to both Manchester United FC and Crawley Town FC, and the public in general."
Butler was also handed a 12-month supervision order and told to pay £85 costs.
Butler - who received threats from United supporters over the video - declined to comment outside court.
Richard Lynn, prosecuting, told the hearing: "Even to those who are not staunch followers of Manchester United's history, many people will be aware that in 1958 an air crash in Munich deprived them of many of their star players.
"This event is not only of great significance for Manchester United and its supporters but for lovers of football generally.
"The publicity surrounding the Crawley Town fixture was very widespread and, due to that, the club decided to record a song with a local band and the plan was to film it at the Broadfield Stadium with supporters of the club."
Mr Lynn said the intention was to donate any money to a local children's charity.
But three days after the film was recorded on February 8, Crawley Town received a phone call from an offended Manchester United fan who had seen Butler's mocking gestures online.
Mr Lynn said: "The defendant was seen miming with his arms spread out to imitate an aircraft and then indicating, also by means of hand gestures, a plane crash.
"He followed that up with a specific reference to 1958 by simply holding up his hands indicating 1958."
As a result of the complaint from the United fan, Crawley Town officials viewed the footage and recognised Butler because he is part-way through a three-year ban for disorderly behaviour.
Mr Lynn added: "As events progressed, the club received further calls and emails from Manchester United supporters expressing their disgust at the conduct of the defendant."
The club then removed all links to the video, and Butler, who appeared in court in a shirt and tie, was arrested on February 14 by Sussex Police officers.
"It was intended as a happy occasion with a charitable outcome but turned sour for everyone," Mr Lynn said.
"The footage was shown to the defendant, he accepted that he was shown in that video and he accepted all his actions.
"Prior to viewing it, he told the officers 'I know what this is about. It was just stupid behaviour. I was just p***** up and I thought it was silly but others don't think that'."
Butler has previous convictions, including for another public order offence in January last year.
He was sentenced to detention in a young offenders' institution at Luton Magistrates' Court for involvement in an outbreak of disorder in Luton town centre with 15 others.
The court heard that Butler taunted and goaded police officers and at one point was seen kicking an Asian man.
Police will apply separately for Butler to be handed a football banning order, magistrates were told.
Jeremy Boots, defending, said there had been four takes of the video, and Butler had figured in only one of them.
He said Butler was remorseful for his actions and he asked for full credit to be given for his early guilty plea.
Mr Boots said: "He wants to apologise to the court for his behaviour."
Butler had been "punished twice" because he was subsequently banned from the FA Cup game at Old Trafford and also banned from Crawley Town FC for life.
Mr Boots went on: "He summed it up as almost like an excommunication as he can't go back to the place where he loves watching football being played.
"He was born 34 years after the Munich air disaster. It's fair to say that he didn't know much about it.
"In the dim distant past he had seen other people do similar actions and he was drunk.
"He now knows what it means and he knows that people would have been upset."
Following sentencing, Sergeant Darren Taylor, of Sussex Police, said: "Butler's obscene verbal gestures in the video caused great offence to Manchester United supporters and to many other people.
"We are glad that the court dealt with him robustly, and that the Crawley Town club also acted robustly by immediately banning him for life as soon as the video came to attention."
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