Facebook bigot jailed for hate-filled comments after Old Firm cup clash

Celtic manager Neil Lennon was the subject of a Facebook page titled 'Neil Lennon Should Be Banned,' on which Birrell wrote sectarian comments. Photo: Ross Brownlee
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was the subject of a Facebook page titled 'Neil Lennon Should Be Banned,' on which Birrell wrote sectarian comments. Photo: Ross Brownlee
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A MAN who posted sectarian comments on a Facebook page about Celtic manager Neil Lennon has been given what is thought to be the toughest sentence for a football-related internet hate crime.

Stephen Birrell, 28, was jailed for eight months for posting a string of religious and racially-motivated comments on the social networking site between 28 February and 8 March.

He was arrested in the wake of a major police operation to crack down on people who had been posting hate-filled comments related to Rangers and Celtic following their volatile Scottish Cup replay on 2 March.

Sheriff Bill Totten told Birrell, from Dalmarnock, Glasgow, that the courts had to send “a clear message to deter others who might be tempted to behave in this way”.

One of the comments, posted a day before the Old Firm clash, read: “Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags ha ha.”

Two days after the match, which triggered a Scottish Government crackdown against football-related disorder, Birrell wrote: “Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers.”

Birrell was also handed a five-year football banning order at Glasgow Sheriff Court for writing the comments on a Facebook page titled “Neil Lennon Should Be Banned”.

His lawyer, Iain McLennan, told the sheriff that Birrell had accepted what he had done, but struggles to understand the severity of his actions.

He said: “He finds it difficult just to comprehend how serious what he did was. But he does accept that what he did was wrong and gratuitously offensive.”

The sheriff told Birrell he wanted to “send a clear message that the right-thinking people of Glasgow and Scotland will not allow any behaviour of this nature, or allow any place in our society for hate crimes”.

He said: “The use of modern communications to spread or support abuse, or target groups of people because of their ethnic or racial background, has no place in our modern society and has no place in genuine support for any football club.”

Under the Scottish Government’s new anti-sectarianism legislation, anyone posting hate-filled messages online faces being jailed for up to five years.

Birrell – who committed the offences days after being released from a previous 12-month jail sentence – was seized at his home as part of a police operation which has already seen a number of fans convicted.

Speaking after Birrell was jailed, Solicitor-General Lesley Thomson said: ““Whether the offences are at the football match itself, travelling to or from it, or online threatening communications, we will do all in our power to bring those who perpetrate such crimes to justice.”

Dave Scott, of anti-sectarianism group Nil By Mouth, said: “Online hate … is simply a 21st-century way to peddle hate.”

lA MAN has admitted religiously prejudiced breach of the peace after he was arrested at the Dunfermline v Hearts game in East End Park on Saturday.

Jamie Begbie, 19, from Kirkliston near Edinburgh, appeared at Dunfermline Sheriff Court yesterday. The case was continued until 16 November.

Another man, Andrew Irvine, 18, denied racially prejudiced breach of the peace. A trial date was set for January.