A man from Bognor, Kerry Hardwell, has been convicted in court for repeatedly posting online abuse towards a Jewish football journalist. The 35-year-old directed the abuse online at Dan Levene, who formerly covered Chelsea Football Club as a journalist and campaigned against racism and antisemitism in football. Hardwell also regularly posted hate speech using antisemitic tropes towards other public figures on social media.
In August last year, a post on Twitter was reported to the police by Mr Levene, and an investigation was launched by Sussex Police. Hardwell was charged with sending an offensive, indecent, menacing, obscene message or matter via a public communication network, contrary to the Communications Act. He admitted the charge and appeared before Worthing Magistrates’ Court for sentencing on Tuesday, July 25.
The court noted that the offence was racially aggravated and imposed a football banning order. In a victim impact statement shared with the court, Mr Levene said: “The ‘Y-word’ is three letters that are often thrown away by people who may claim they don’t fully appreciate their collective meaning; with some football fans among that number. But everyone, most notably the defendant here, should be aware that it is a racially offensive word – and its use in a pejorative sense, as in this case, is a hate crime.”
Mr Levene said the impact of messages such as those from Hardwell had contributed to him deciding to stop reporting on Chelsea, a club his family had supported for three generations. Hardwell was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work, with £85 costs and a £114 surcharge. The court also imposed a three-year Football Banning Order which restricts his access to attending professional football matches in England.
Speaking after the case, Sussex Police’s Dedicated Football Officer PC Darren Balkham said: “The vitriol in the messages were sent in the belief that because the person was behind a keyboard, they wouldn’t be identified. The defendant was wrong, and Harding will now have learned this lesson. There is no place for antisemitic and racist abuse, either in football or in society.”
A spokesperson for Chelsea Football Club said: “Chelsea FC condemns antisemitic abuse and hate speech in all its forms and we have no tolerance for it at our club. As soon as Sussex Police made us aware, Mr Hardwell was suspended pending the outcome of criminal proceedings. Subsequent to Mr Hardwell’s conviction, we can confirm that he has been issued with a lifetime ban from Chelsea FC. We commend Dan Levene for coming forward. Nobody should have to be subject to the type of disgusting abuse he has had to endure.” Sussex County Football Association has also been informed of the banning order imposed.