West Brom fan jailed over ‘grossly offensive’ racial abuse posted on Facebook

A West Brom fan found guilty of racially abusing one of his own team’s players on Facebook has been jailed for eight weeks.

Simon Silwood posted a message saying Romaine Sawyers should win the “Baboon d’Or” – a sarcastic reference to the Ballon d’Or trophy – following the Baggies’ 5-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Hawthorns on January 26.

The 50-year-old denied the offence, telling police his message on the group was “stupid not racial” and claiming autocorrect had changed the word “buffoon” to “baboon”.

Silwood, who has been banned for life by West Brom, was convicted last month at Walsall Magistrates’ Court after District Judge Briony Clarke ruled he was “not a credible witness” and had meant the post to be offensive.

Simon Silwood court case
Simon Silwood claimed his remark was ‘stupid not racial’ (West Midlands Police/PA)

The court heard that Sawyers, who is currently on loan at Stoke and was reporting a separate alleged racist social media post when he was shown Silwood’s message, was left feeling “harassed, alarmed and distressed” after reading it.

Passing sentence on Silwood at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, District Judge Clarke told him: “This is, Mr Silwood, a serious offence.

“There is no place for racism or racist abuse online. This clearly in my view crosses the custody threshold.

“I assess the remorse you have for your actions as very minimal indeed.

“In my view it (the offence) falls into the category of greatest harm. We have to accept it had a wider impact and a substantial impact on Mr Sawyers.

“In my view, taking into account what I have heard, there is no reason to suspend the sentence.”

Silwood, who was also ordered to pay a £128 victim surcharge and total of £1,000 in costs and compensation, was charged following an investigation carried out by Pc Stuart Ward, who is the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Bromwich Albion – Premier League – Molineux Stadium
Romaine Sawyers in action for West Brom against local rivals Wolves (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Opening the case at the earlier hearing, prosecutor Simon Brownsey said his case was that the message posted by Silwood to a West Brom Fan Zone Facebook group “was intentionally posted and was blatant racism towards black professional footballer Mr Romaine Sawyers”.

“Three posts were placed on that thread,” the prosecutor said. “The first one said ‘b***end’. The second was ‘white lives matter when you try and watch’.

“The third post, from Mr Silwood, said ‘Baboon dor’.”

Prior to sentence, Mr Brownsey submitted the offence was a “grossly offensive racial hate crime” which had impacted on all black professional footballers and wider society, putting it into a higher category of harm caused.

In a statement provided to the court, Sawyers said: “On Friday January 29, I attended the Hawthorns to provide a statement to the police regarding a separate incident where I was racially abused on Instagram.

“I was made aware of another incident regarding the colour of my skin.

“I knew what I was about to look at was going to be of an abusive nature.

“As I read it, I felt numb and did not know what to say. Having seen the word baboon I assumed it was referring to the colour of my skin.

“The word has left me feeling harassed, alarmed and distressed, and I find the message to be racist based on the colour of my skin.

“The whole incident has left me extremely upset.

“I find it difficult to believe that in 2021 there are still people out in society who believe it is acceptable to behave like this.”

Offering mitigation prior to sentence, defence barrister Rupert Jones said of Silwood: “He has suffered a very public humiliation, entirely of his own doing.

“He himself has received messages and threats since his conviction. He has now had the opportunity, somewhat ironically, to experience what that is like.”

As Silwood was being taken down the cells, a woman in the public gallery described the sentence as “disgusting” and shouted: “He’s an innocent man.”

Following the conviction, Sawyers issued a statement, part of which read: “I am now focused on putting this incident behind me.

“Racial abuse towards anyone, in any circumstance, is totally unacceptable, and I hope this case will serve as a deterrent to others.

“This is an incident that has affected me deeply, but I would like to encourage fellow players to report all racial abuse to the police.

“We must together stand strong in order to rid the game, and wider society, of this hideous behaviour.

“It is widely accepted that social media companies must do more to stop the publication of racism on their platforms. I again urge them to take the necessary action required to prevent anyone from receiving the abuse I experienced.

“It is important we all remain vigilant in the fight against racism, so please, if you are aware of racism, it is essential you report it.”