Former England footballer Ian Wright was shocked by the abuse he received from a Tralee teenager but forgave his late night online harasser, a court has been told.
In a victim impact statement Mr Wright urged Patrick O’Brien (18) and those who may have taught him or enabled such hate, “to change for the better”.
O’Brien had sent “crass” and “racist” messages to the former Arsenal footballer late at night after he lost a virtual soccer match on a PlayStation game, Fifa, where he downloads Wright to play for him, Tralee District Court heard.
O’Brien of Sycamore Court, Ashleigh Downs, entered a guilty plea to two charges. He admitted harassing Mr Wright on May 11th, 2020 contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
O’Brien also admitted that on the same date he sent by phone a message that was grossly offensive, obscene and menacing, contrary to the Post Office Act 1951.
Patrick O’Brien appeared in court accompanied by his mother and his solicitor, Patrick Mann. O’Brien was now accepted at a third-level institution, the court heard.
Garda Sergeant Eoin Donovan outlined the facts of the case. He said O’Brien had been playing Fifa on his PlayStation against a friend and had downloaded the virtual Ian Wright as “a legend” to play for him. He had lost the game “and got mad”, Sgt Donovan said.
The Ian Wright character did not perform as well as he hoped, so O'Brien messaged Ian Wright privately on Instagram, the sergeant said.
The garda described as “crass, racist and threatening in nature” the 20 messages that were sent in what the court heard were rapid succession.
“He was using racist slurs, beginning with N and C,” Sgt Donovan said.
When the judge asked for examples, the sergeant read or spelled out words including c**t, coon, monkey and n****r. He had also called Mr Wright “a cotton-picking black coon”, and included monkey emojis.
“If I get coronavirus, I will cough in your face and give you a death sentence,” the young Tralee man threatened.
The following morning Ian Wright was made aware by his publicist of the messages and put them up on his public page.
Patrick O’Brien was inundated with messages and there was a huge media fall-out in the UK, the sergeant said.
His mother took her son to gardaí and he made “a full and frank admission”.
The court was told how Ian Wright had wanted to come to court but was unable to do so due to Covid restrictions.
Victim impact statements
In the first victim impact statement of May 13th, the former footballer wrote: “Emotional, very shook up with the intensity. I have experienced racism years ago but I am in complete shock to experience it now and am very disappointed.”
However, in a second victim impact statement, dated November 19th, Mr Wright said: “Patrick, I forgive you. I believe there is redemption for everyone. I hope that you and also those that either taught you or enabled this hate will learn from this and change for the better.”
Patrick O’Brien has no previous convictions and had never come to the court’s attention before or since. He had also contacted Mr Wright “straight away” to apologise. There had been “a rush of blood” to the head while playing a virtual reality game late at night, the sergeant also agreed.
Judge David Waters said that an individual of his age would hold such views and express them in such a vicious and calculating manner was worrying.
He ordered a probation report and remanded O’Brien on continuing bail and ordered him to reappear on January 27th.