A man has been convicted of racially abusing footballer Romaine Sawyers online after being tracked down by a dedicated football hate crime officer.

Police Constable Stuart Ward of West Midlands Police launched an immediate investigation after being alerted to the offensive post from offender Simon Silwood in January this year, which included slurs that left the footballer feeling “numb”.

The racially abusive comment was reported to the force by the player’s club – West Bromwich Albion – who PC Ward promptly worked alongside to try and identify Silwood through their online database.

Simon Silwood has been convicted of racist online abuseWMP
Simon Silwood has been convicted of racist online abuse

The West Bromwich Albion fan allegedly suggested Sawyers, 29, should win the “Baboon d’Or”, a court heard.

Walsall Magistrates’ Court was told Simon Silwood posted the message on a “sarcastic” fan zone WhatsApp group titled “Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or” following his team’s 5-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Hawthorns on January 26.

It led to 50-year-old Silwood being traced and arrested at his home the same day as the racist posting on Facebook was brought to police attention.

He was then convicted of sending an offensive message under section 127 of the Communications Act, following a trial at Walsall Magistrates Court today (9 September).

Silwood, of Randall Close, Kingswinford, will be sentenced at Birmingham Magistrates Court at the end of this month, on 30 September, and has already been given a lifetime ban by West Bromwich Albion following the conviction.

PC Ward had only been in post as the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit for a matter of weeks when the racist offence occurred.

He said: “Abusing anyone for the colour of their skin is disgusting and can never, ever be condoned. There’s no place for racism in football or society in general.

“Silwood is old enough to know such appalling behaviour is not only wrong, but is absolutely deplorable.

“Sadly we’ve seen a rise in online hate crime over the last 12 months and we won’t hesitate to take action against those responsible, as this case shows.

“As part of my role I’m working with partners to change this unacceptable culture of abuse and this includes education around discrimination.

“I know from personal experience how being a victim of racism hurts while offenders risk their own aspirations through getting a criminal record.

“I would like to thank Romaine and West Bromwich Albion for their assistance during this investigation.”

West Bromwich Albion football player Romaine Sawyers was left "numb" following the racist abuse West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion football player Romaine Sawyers was left “numb” following the racist abuse

In a statement provided to the court, Sawyers responded: “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 Birmingham-born footballer is an active supporter of anti-racism football campaign organisation Kick It Out.

“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.

“I find it even more disgusting that this comment was made on social media by someone sat behind a computer or a mobile phone.”

In a statement, West Bromwich Albion condemned the abuse and promised a lifetime ban to the senderWBA
In a statement, West Bromwich Albion condemned the abuse and promised a lifetime ban to the sender

A statement from football club West Bromwich Albion read: “Everyone at the club is appalled by the abhorrent message which was sent during Tuesday’s Premier League fixture against Manchester City.

“The club has a proud history of confronting all forms of discrimination and will assist the authorities with their inquiries, seeking the toughest available legal punishment, as well as a lifetime ban from The Hawthorns for the individual responsible.

“Albion will offer Romaine the relevant support required at this time and continues with its long-standing commitment to help rid football of racism. There is No Room For Racism. Anywhere.”

A spokesperson for West Midlands Police added: “Anyone who has been a victim of a football-related hate crime, or has information about an offence, needs to make a formal report via the Live Chat service on our website or by calling 101.”

Any incidents of discrimination in football, physical or online, can also be reported to Kick It Out here.

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