Football pundit and former Arsenal player Ian Wright has said he is "disappointed" that a Kerry teenager who admitted racially abusing him escaped a criminal conviction.
Patrick O’Brien (18) , who sent “crass and racist messages” to Mr Wright after he lost a Fifa game on PlayStation, was given the benefit of the Probation Act and avoided a criminal conviction.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Mr Wright said: “This case was never about revenge, it was always about consequences for acts of racism.
“My forgiveness of this young man was for my own deeply personal need and desire to move forward without further anguish.
“I am a 57-year-old man that has experienced racism throughout my life.
“I wasn’t expecting my forgiveness to be an invitation to lighten a sentence.
‘We are all tired’
“Seeing this judgment, I can only wonder what deterrent there is for anyone else who spouts this kind of vile racist abuse.
“An individual wished death upon me because of my skin colour.
“No judge’s claims of ‘naivety’ or ‘immaturity’ will ever be acceptable to us.
“The supposed immaturity and naivety of our attackers is never any comfort. “So yeah I am disappointed. I’m tired. We are all tired.”
O'Brien, (18) of Sycamore Court, Ashleigh Downs, Tralee, Co Kerry, had already pleaded guilty to two charges in relation to the matter, Judge David Waters noted at Tralee District Court on Wednesday.
The now third level student, admitted harassing Mr Wright on May 11th, 2020 contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
He 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.
He has written a letter of apology since the November court where the facts were outlined, the court heard. His solicitor Pat Mann revealed how off his own bat, Mr O’Brien had made a €500 donation from his pocket money to the Irish Network Against Racism organisation. Mr O’Brien was from a very good family and he was a good young man, said the solicitor.
“He’s getting on extremely well as a student at IT Tralee,” Mr Mann said. The family were serving a sentence themselves, because of the amount of “negative stuff” they received directly, he said.
Tralee District Court was told in November how Mr O’Brien sent “crass” and “racist” messages to Mr Wright late at night after he lost a virtual soccer match on a PlayStation game, Fifa, where he downloaded the virtual Ian Wright to play for him.
The Ian Wright character did not perform as well as he hoped, so Mr O'Brien messaged Mr Wright privately on Instagram.
As well as racist slurs, the young man said in the messages to Mr Wright that if he got coronavirus, he would cough in the former footballer’s face and give him a death sentence, the court was told.
A previous court was also told how the O’Brien family had been targeted on social media in the aftermath of the incident.
The sentencing had been adjourned from November for a probation report and“the very comprehensive” report by a probation officer was “very positive”, Judge Waters said on Wednesday.
The judge’s main question had been the motivation for the racial abuse, he said. The report established this was the result of immaturity, was unintended and was not the result of a belief. “The real consideration for me was, were the racial comments motivated by a belief . . . or mindless and unthinking, uttered by a naive young person,” Judge Waters said.
The probation report showed he had not intended harm. The judge also noted Mr O’Brien’s co-operation and guilty plea and lack of previous convictions. “This was unthinking behaviour by a young, immature, naive young man who said things on social media that were absolutely reprehensible. They took on a life of their own on social media that he did not anticipate,” Judge Waters said.
Mr Wright “very generously” forgave Mr O’Brien, the judge noted.
“Mr O’Brien has reason to be thankful to the victim,” Judge Waters said. There was nothing to be gained by imposing a criminal conviction, the judge said, applying the Probation Act.
Messages ‘racist and threatening in nature’
Mr Wright was shocked by the abuse he received from the Tralee teenager but forgave his late night online harasser, a previous court was 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”.
Garda Sgt Eoin Donovan, who outlined the facts of the case at the previous court, told how Mr 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 “got mad” when he lost the game, Sgt Donovan 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.
The following morning, Mr Wright was made aware by his publicist of the messages and put them up on his public page.
Mr 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 Garda and he made “a full and frank admission”. The court was told how Mr Wright had wanted to come to court but was unable to do so due to Covid restrictions.
In the first victim impact statement of May 13th, 2020, 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, 2020, 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.”
Mr 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, to which the sergeant also agreed.
Judge David Waters said in November that an individual of his age would hold such views and express them in such a vicious and calculating manner was worrying.