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‘When we turn up at their house they are shocked’ – race hate football cop on hunt for trolls

The UK’s first soccer hate crime officer – based at West Midlands Police – says racists trolling footballers on social media are shocked when police turn up

Police have held held high-level talks with social media giants Facebook and Instagram in a bid to crack down on racist abuse posted to footballers.

West Midlands Police has been briefed about the plans of social network sites to fight racism from their platforms.

It was understood the platforms were working on new algorithms that would stop racist comments posted by trolls ever reaching their targets.

The software will be used to tackle an “epidemic” of vile remarks sent to high-profile names by direct message – known as DMs.

WBA player Romaine Sawyers and England stars Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are among dozens of players to have been targeted in recent months.

Only this week, young Aston Villa prospect Tyreik Wright, on loan at Walsall, was also sent vile abuse.

Facebook and Instagram executives last week.

Pc Stuart Ward told the Mirror the companies’ proposals were “positive”.

“We’ve had conversations with Facebook and Instagram in the past week,” said the 34-year-old.

“They were positive discussions around what they are doing to work with us, the police, and ultimately what we’re doing to work with them.

“They are looking at doing a lot of work at their end in terms of stopping abuse getting to a player.

“Things like blocking out certain offensive words that can be picked up through a computerised system, so it never reaches the player.

 
PC Stuart Ward (Image: WMP)

“They are doing that work, but I would imagine that is going to take a lot of time to get in place.

“There might be occasions or words or phrases that might slip through, but hopefully it will block it.

“If it does still get through to the player or user, they have the option to report it to the social media companies and report it to us.

“We could go back to the social media company, tell them something has slipped through and they can make the necessary amendments.”

Pc Ward has only been in his post for six weeks but has already been left horrified at the abuse being posted by trolls.

He recently arrested a man suspected of sending a racist message on social media to West Brom’s Sawyers.

“People are quite happy to sit behind a computer and log on after a game to send an abusive message,” he said.

“Would they do it in the street? Possibly not. They have that added protection behind a computer.

“They know they can’t be identified as quickly as if they were doing it in the public domain.

“However, I think because of social media, people are also more comfortable with coming out and reporting these offences.

“Players are now beginning to report the abuse they get. And members of the public are seeing it and reporting it.

 
Romaine Sawyers

“The awareness is being raised. We are getting more reports now because of that awareness and better education around it.”

Pc Ward was born and raised in Dudley and experienced racism in football at an early age.

During a junior match the abuse he received from other players was so bad his mother ran onto the pitch to stop the game.

“I was 11 at the time,” recalled the mixed-race officer, who is a West Brom fan. “I was targeted because of the colour of my skin.

“There was a bad tackle, the ref gave a foul and a player stood over me and called me a black b*****d.

“It continued through the game and nothing was being done, so my mum came on and took it into her own hands.

“She stopped the game, took me off and took me home.

“At the time I was probably embarrassed, thinking ‘Mum, I’m playing football, what are you doing?’

“However I look back now and it was the right thing to do because no-one should be subjected to that abuse, not in football or in society.

“Mum remembers it, we talk about it quite a lot. As a parent she’s really proud of me now. I think she knows what a tough job it’s going to be.

“But she believes I have a lot to offer based on the experiences that have happened to me in life around racism.

“I’ve had lots of incidents where I’ve been racially abused.

“I had it growing up as a young lad in the street, being called names, and then as a police officer when I have arrested people.

“Some members of the public don’t take kindly to the police, and when an officer is a different colour or background they take exception to it.”

When Pc Ward saw the ground-breaking football hate crime job advertised he jumped at the chance to apply.

“Investigating hate crime is something I have been interested in doing for a long time,” he said.

“The racial side is obviously something really close to me, but there is all the other areas as well.

“Hate crime based on someone’s religion, gender or sexual orientation is just as important to investigate.

“I also wanted to be involved in football – helping footballers, fans, anyone affiliated to football clubs.

“Being able to help semi-pro clubs, players and obviously grassroots and the women’s side of things as well.”

With fans banned from stadiums and grassroots matches halted because of Covid-19, social media has taken up most of Pc Ward’s time.

Unlike in the pre-internet days, footballers are now subjected to racist abuse online 24 hours a day.

It is Pc Ward’s job to track down the trolls sending the messages and bring them to justice – which can be tricky.

“Every circumstance is very different with social media,” he said.

“If it’s a case that we can identify someone as quickly as possible, we will do, and they will be arrested.

“If we can’t identify the individual, we have to apply to the relevant social media company for that information.

“We call it subscriber information – their name, email address, maybe a contact number and also their IP address details.

“Their IP address will come back to us, we then do a further inquiry to see where that IP address is linked to.

“We get that information from the broadband or mobile provider, and they give us an address of that person.

“I’ve had a couple come back recently which were about a four-week turnaround, which isn’t too bad.

“It depends on how many requests they have got coming in.

“I can only talk about the ones that I’ve requested, and they took about four weeks.

“Using a fake name and fake profile makes it difficult to us, but we can go down the IP route.

“Everything is recorded on the internet, in terms of what you go on, what you search for, so there are inquiries we can do to identify them.

“But it is difficult, it’s not an easy task.”

One of the best parts of Pc Ward’s job is finally confronting the trolls responsible for the racist messages.

“When we turn up at their house they are quite shocked,” he said.

“People going online and typing these messages are not expecting police to be knocking their doors.”

The officer works closely with the six teams on his patch – Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Wolves, West Brom, Coventry City and Walsall.

“They have reacted really positively to my appointment,” he said.

“They know there are issues in football and they want to help the police in terms of investigating it and educating people around it.

“At the minute my job is pretty much social media-related.

“I hope when supporters go back they just enjoy football for what it is.

It’s been almost a year since most fans were in stadiums.

“Football has a massive impact on people’s lives. It brings people together.”

Pc Ward said one of the most important aspects of his job was to educate future generations of fans about the harm racism does.

“I believe further down the line, looking at future generations, education is massive,” he said.

“We are going to be looking at doing work with schools, colleges, youth foundations and community groups.

“We want to give them the confidence that if they hear or see a comment, they can report it and we will take it very seriously.”

 

The officer has backed calls for all social media users to be required to give proof of identity before opening an account.

“I think it would be a very good idea,” he said.

“Obviously there are some negative sides to it because some people have to remain anonymous on social media for various reasons.

“But I think if people have to show a form of identity then it may, but won’t guarantee, stop a lot of abuse that occurs online.

“Potentially it could stop a lot of that. It will leave a trace back to their account and give us something to easily follow up on.”

What do you think?

Written by The Editor

warrior dedicated to the cause of fighting the takeover of our culture.

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