A football fan has been convicted of racially abusing Rio Ferdinand at a Premier League match.
The 33-year-old had denied a racially aggravated public order offence but was unanimously convicted on Wednesday following a two-day trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court and will be sentenced on 8 December, West Midlands police said.
PC Stuart Ward, the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit for West Midlands police, said: “Abusing anyone for the colour of their skin is disgusting and can never, ever be condoned. Arnold is old enough to know such appalling behaviour is inexcusable and certainly won’t be tolerated.
“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 Rio for his assistance in this investigation. Through his support, we’ve ensured a man has this conviction to his name.”
Arnold, of Stone, Staffordshire, was arrested at the scene after the offence, which occurred during the first game played at Molineux with fans present since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Crown Prosecution Service said he was caught making racist gestures on CCTV and was seen by several witnesses in the stands.
Ferdinand told a previous trial that he did not see the gestures made by Arnold, but had noted one fan’s “more aggressive body language”. Arnold was previously banned from games for three years after being found guilty of homophobic abuse and making gestures that mimicked disability during the same game.
He was also ordered to pay almost £900 in fines and court costs, West Midlands police said.
A spokesman for Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination organisation, said: “Kick It Out welcomes the guilty verdict handed to Arnold today. It is imperative that perpetrators of discriminatory abuse are held to account for their actions and we hope this result sends a strong statement that racism has no place in our society.
“We commend the CPS and West Midlands police for their work securing justice in this case and would urge authorities across the country to take similar incidents of discriminatory abuse just as seriously. We continue to work with partners across football to tackle discriminatory abuse as it happens and to ensure that victims receive the support they need. We would encourage anyone who witnesses discrimination of any sort in future to report it directly to us at Kick It Out.”