Sheffield Wednesday fan sentenced for mocking Bradley Lowery at Sunderland match
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A football fan who mocked mascot Bradley Lowery during a match against the youngster’s favourite team has been spared immediate jail by a judge who said his actions were “utterly appalling” and “disgraceful”.
Sheffield Wednesday fan Dale Houghton, 32, taunted Sunderland fans with a picture of Bradley, who died in 2017, on his phone during a match at Hillsborough Stadium on September.
Houghton, from Rotherham, admitted a public order offence at a previous hearing and, on Friday, November 17, he was given a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and was ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work by District Judge Marcus Waite.
Mr Waite said: “You showed callous disrespect to a brave young man who was rightly held in the highest esteem by football fans everywhere.”
The judge told Sheffield Magistrates’ Court: “Your actions on that day were utterly appalling. Your behaviour was disgraceful.”
He also gave Houghton, who had been a Sheffield Wednesday season ticket holder for 25 years, a five-year football banning order.
Mr Waite also imposed a £154 victim surcharge and ordered him to pay £85 prosecution costs.
He said that, although the offence was almost spontaneous, the defendant took some time to Google the image of Bradley on his phone.
The judge said to Houghton that, during this brief moment: “Did you not think to yourself ‘what the hell am I doing?’.”
But Mr Waite said he believed the defendant had shown “genuine remorse” after hearing how he had lost his job as a window fitter over the incident and also a second job, once his new employers found out what he had done.
The court was also told how Houghton had moved out of his parents’ home due to the backlash over his actions and his relationship with his partner had also suffered.
Earlier, prosecutor Mark Hughes said the incident happened after Houghton and his brother had been engaged in “standard football banter” with a group of 200 Sunderland fans, which escalated to them taunting each other with the badges of their rivals – Newcastle United and Sheffield United.
At this point, Houghton Googled the image of Bradley Lowery and was photographed showing it to the Sunderland fans and laughing “to p**s them off”, the court heard.
The image was shared on Twitter and caused widespread outrage.
Houghton, who had been drinking before the match, left the ground when Wednesday went 2-0 down, to go to the pub, and only found out later the scale of the turmoil he had caused, the prosecutor said.
Connie Coombs, defending said her client accepted his actions were “outrageous”, “deplorable”, “atrocious” and a “heinous act”.
Ms Coombs said it was “a moment of utter stupidity in the context of back-and-forth between himself and the Sunderland fans”.
She said alcohol contributed to the offence, which was “out of character”.
Ms Coombs said: “He’s effectively having to start his life again,” adding that he thought this was “understandable and justified”.
She said: “He wishes to express his deep remorse, certainly to Bradley Lowery’s family, as well to the general public.”
Bradley Lowery was diagnosed with rare cancer neuroblastoma when he was just 18 months old and was six when he died in 2017.
He was a mascot for his beloved club and, in the months before his death, led England out at Wembley alongside former Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, who was his long-time supporter.
Bradley’s family set up a foundation to raise money for cancer treatment.
In a statement read to the court, his mother Gemma described the “emotional turmoil” Houghton’s actions had caused.
Houghton, of Black Carr Road, Wickersley, Rotherham, had pleaded guilty to one count of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress by displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation, which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
The defendant wore a blue suit with a white shirt and patterned tie as he sat alone in the glass-fronted dock.
When he arrived at court he was asked whether he was sorry for what he had done and he replied: “Yes. Extremely sorry.”
Houghton did not comment as he left.
Sheffield Wednesday fans launched an online fundraiser for the Bradley Lowery Foundation after news of the mockery allegations emerged.