Man jailed for racist internet post

A man who used a social networking website to post sectarian comments about Catholics and Celtic supporters has been jailed for eight months.

Stephen Birrell, 28, from Glasgow, was also handed a five-year football banning order at Glasgow Sheriff Court for writing the comments on a Facebook page titled Neil Lennon Should Be Banned.



He admitted writing the religiously and racially motivated comments between February 28 and March 8 this year.



Sentencing him, Sheriff Bill Totten said the courts had to send "a clear message to deter others who might be tempted to behave in this way".







One of the comments, posted a day before a Celtic v Rangers game on March 2 this year, read: "Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags ha ha."



Two days after the match, he wrote: "Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers."



His lawyer, Iain McLennan, told the sheriff that Birrell had accepted what he had done but struggles to understand the severity of his actions.



He said: "He finds it difficult just to comprehend how serious what he did was. But he does accept that what he did was wrong and gratuitously offensive."



The sheriff told Birrell that he had escaped a longer sentence because his comments hadn't made specific threats against individuals.



But he said he wanted to "send a clear message that the right-thinking people of Glasgow and Scotland will not allow any behaviour of this nature, or allow any place in our society for hate crimes".



He said: "The use of modern communications to spread or support abuse or target groups of people because of their ethnic or racial background has no place in our modern society and has no place in genuine support for any football club."



The sheriff also reduced Birrell's jail term because he had pleaded guilty, cutting the time from 12 months to eight.



Under the football banning order, Birrell cannot attend any football match in the UK for five years. He will also have to inform police and comply with any decisions they make if he wishes to attend a game abroad.



Birrell, dressed in a tracksuit with his belongings in a yellow plastic carrier bag, spoke only to confirm his name and address.



As he was led to the cells, he turned and waved to his friends and family who had come to see him sentenced.







Birrell was arrested and charged in April during a police crackdown on sectarian hatred on the internet.

Specialist officers began investigating hate comments after an ill-tempered Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park. The so-called "shame game" brought simmering tensions between the clubs' supporters to a head.



The match saw three Rangers players given red cards and ended in confrontation between Rangers' then assistant manager Ally McCoist and Celtic manager Neil Lennon.



Disruption was also seen off the pitch, with around 30 fans arrested at Celtic Park.



An Old Firm summit chaired by First Minister Alex Salmond was held in the wake of the game and an eight-point action plan was agreed.



Controversial legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism is making its way through Holyrood. If passed, the Scottish Government's Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill will create two offences which relate to behaviour deemed to "incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred" in and around football grounds and on the internet.



The Bill would mean those convicted could spend as long as five years in prison and be banned from football grounds. It was intended as emergency legislation but the timetable was delayed because of concerns about its lack of clarity. The "need" for new laws has also seen disagreement.



Speaking after Birrell was jailed, Scotland's Solicitor General Lesley Thomson said sectarianism was "completely unacceptable in modern Scotland".



She said: "The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is absolutely determined to play its part in confronting the problems of sectarianism, religious offences and related disorder and violence.



"Whether the offences are at the football match itself, travelling to or from it or, as in this case, online threatening communications, we will do all in our power to bring those who perpetrate such crimes to justice.



"Prosecutors will continue to prosecute anyone indulging in such behaviour which is completely unacceptable in modern Scotland."



PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England