A MAN has been found guilty of racially abusing Chester FC goalkeeper Aaron Chapman.
Matthew Sewell, 32, was convicted of shouting racist abuse during Chester’s game against Halifax Town on February 13 and has been banned from attending matches for three years.
Wendy Newton, prosecuting at West Cheshire Magistrates Court, said during the second half of the match, which Chester went on to win 2-1, Mr Chapman heard a number of racist remarks which left him “upset, distressed and disgusted”.
Mr Chapman, who describes himself as of mixed Caribbean origin, did not attend the trial.
The main prosecution witness, Chester FC steward, Natalie Gunner, said she saw Sewell repeatedly running to the front of the south stand at the Chester Swansway Stadium to shout abuse at the officials and players.
She said this continued throughout the game until she saw and heard him shout “go back to Moss Side” before shouting a number of racist remarks at Mr Chapman.
She then pointed Sewell, of College Terrace, Halifax, out to police who arrested him.
Asked if she was sure it was Sewell shouting the abuse, Miss Gunner said she was “100 per cent”, adding “I was looking right at him from around one and a half metres”.
Two police officers, PC Gary Cook, the football liaison officer for Chester FC, and Sgt Mark Woolam, the arresting officer, both described Sewell as becoming more “frustrated” throughout the match.
Sgt Woolam told the trial that after Sewell was pointed out to the officers by Miss Gunner they asked him to come to one side before arresting him. On arrest, Sewell said, “I haven’t done anything. Who said that bring them here so I can ask them about it.”
Sewell argued a case of mistaken identity, telling the court he had heard someone in the crowd shouting racist abuse and told them off saying it was “inappropriate, disgusting and not something I would ever do”.
He had not initially intended to go to the match at Chester but had been persuaded by his friends after having a few drinks in the Courtyards Pub, in Halifax, on a day off from work.
Sewell admitted getting a little “overpassionate” during the game and frustrated by some of the decisions the referee was making. He said he was spoken to by the police in the first half and agreed to calm down but at half time spoke to police again because he was “bothered” by the large police presence at the ground and the fact that some Halifax fans were being “harassed”.
He said he had drunk around seven pints before the match and also admitted shouting and swearing at the referee, saying “it may have come across as aggressive”.
Asked by defence counsel Peter Barnett if he had directed racist abuse at the goalkeeper, Sewell said: “No, I hadn’t really noticed the keeper. I was shouting towards the referee because he had sent one of our players off and I didn’t agree with it but I did not say anything racist.”
Defence witness Imran Saddiq said he was with Sewell almost all of the evening and had also heard some racist remarks but they were from a group behind Sewell and it had caused an argument between some of the Halifax fans.
He said: “There were some kids shouting abuse at the keeper and there was a young family near to us. One of them [the kids] was being racist and an argument started between some fans.”
Mr Shaddiq said he had not heard Sewell use racist language and was “amazed” when he learnt of the arrest.
However, magistrates found Sewell guilty as they felt Natalie Gunner was a reliable witness and Sewell’s recollection may have been clouded by alcohol.
The court then heard of Sewell’s previous convictions relating to football where in 2006 he was convicted of using threatening words and behaviour at Leicester City and in 2001 at Cheltenham he was given a Football Banning Order for three years after he went up to home fans and pulled down his trousers.
Magistrates fined Sewell £275, ordered him to pay £620 prosecution costs and a £27 victim surcharge and banned him from attending football matches for three years.
CHESTER FC have praised the actions of the police and stewards after the conviction for racist abuse.
The club’s vice-chairman, Steve Ashton, praised Chester FC steward Natalie Gunner and Cheshire Police for identifying Sewell.
He said: “There is no place for racism in society and it is despicable behaviour. The Chester FC steward and the police did a great job in identifying the perpetrator.
“Hopefully this sends a message to show this is not acceptable at the Swansway Chester Stadium and that is particularly important for us because we are a community based club representing a diverse community.”
PROSECUTOR in the case, Wendy Newton, is a hate crime specialist.
She said the Crown Prosecution Service treats hate crime very seriously.
She said: “Aaron Chapman was playing his very first game for Chester FC - it should have been a night for excitement and celebration.
“Unfortunately, Sewell chose that occasion to subject Mr Chapman to vile, racist abuse that has no place in our society.
“He was shocked, humiliated and upset and the behaviour of Sewell shocked others at the match.
“Sewell may have fooled himself into thinking what he was doing was harmless but it wasn’t. Racial harassment is a crime and it won’t be tolerated.
“The Crown Prosecution Service is determined that this sort of behaviour is punished and we welcome the decision of the court.”
See full story in the Chester Leader