A Tralee teenager, now a third level student, who sent “ crass and racist messages” to former footballer Ian Wright after his “character” failed to perform to expectations in a virtual soccer match has been given the benefit of the Probation Act and avoided a criminal conviction.
Patrick O’Brien aged 18 of Sycamore Court, Ashleigh Downs, has already pleaded guilty to two charges in relation to the matter, Judge David Waters noted at Tralee District Court today.
He admitted harassing Mr Wright on May 11th, 2020 contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. O’Brien has 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 also 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, he had made a Euro 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, the solicitor said. “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, Mr Mann said. A previous court was told how the 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 probation officer Ms Brosnan, was “very positive”, Judge Waters said.
The judge’s main question had been the motivation for the racial abuse, he said.
The report established this was the result of immaturity and was unintended, and they were 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 O’Brien’s cooperation 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, Judge Waters said, applying the Probation Act.
A previous court hearing in November heard that Ian Wright was shocked by the abuse he received from a Tralee teenager but forgave his late night online harasser. And in a victim impact statement Mr Wright urged Patrick O’Brien 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 was told in November.
The Ian Wright character did not perform as well as he hoped, so O’Brien messaged Ian 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 footballer’s face and give him a death sentence, the court was told.
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
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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 in November that an individual of his age would hold such views and express them in such a vicious and calculating manner was worrying.