Dublin men jailed for racially abusing former Man United star Andy Cole
Cole, 42, was travelling on an Aer Arran service from Dublin to Manchester when he was subjected to the abuse, which included being called “Mr Blackman” and a “spook”.
Drunk passengers Gregory Horan, 26, and Lee Byrne, 28, had begun drinking before boarding the 9.30am flight.
Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown court heard how they were asked by cabin crew if the wished to disembark before the plane took off.
But they opted to stay on board, where their drunken behaviour immediately caused problems for other passengers and cabin crew.
The pair had smuggled a bottle of rum on board and swore at cabin crew when they were asked to hand it over.
They also“hassled” and kicked the chairs of two female passengers who were sat in front on them.
Rachel Faux, prosecuting, said cabin crew had felt “threatened” by the men and they were grateful it was only a short flight.
Byrne began pestering Cole, who was sat nearby, calling him “Mr Blackman”.
“Where I’m from it’s a politically correct to address you as Mr Blackman,” he told the former player.
Cole told Byrne to “just leave it” but the abuse continued with Byrne calling him a “spook”.
Ms Faux told the court that Cole had felt “angry and upset” by this stage and he was forced to change seats.
She said that the former striker had felt “extremely humiliated and degraded” and she read out a statement from him which said: “I’ve done a lot of work in sport and football around racism.
“I’ve been the victim of racism before and will not tolerate this abuse in any capacity.
“I am worried if nothing happens or changes the next generation of young people, including my own children, will suffer the same discrimination and that is unacceptable to me.”
Horan and Byrne were arrested by police when the plane touched down and later charged.
Cole took to Twitter after the incident - on December 29, last year - to thank his followers for their backing.
He tweeted: “Can I just say thank you for the tweets and the support.”
Unemployed Byrne, of 52 Corduff Court, Blanchardstown, Dublin, pleaded guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence and being drunk on an aircraft at Trafford Magistrates' Court in December.
Horan, of 10 Sycamore View, Castleknock, Dublin, who is on a Job Care scheme, admitted being drunk on an aircraft.
The court heard how both men had show remorse for their actions.
Corrine Ransom, defending Byrne who had several previous convictions for drink-related offences and threatening behaviour, described his actions as “wreckless”, adding that he didn’t hold “entrenched racist views”.
David Bentley, defending Horan, said he had a history of drug and alcohol problems and he acknowledged his behaviour had been “dangerous” on board an aircraft.
The court heard how both men had since moved to temporary addresses in Leeds.
Judge Mushtaq Khokar handed Byrne a 20-week sentence and Horan a ten week sentence and they were each ordered to pay a £80 victim surcharge.
He said their actions could have ‘jeopardised the safety of everyone on the plane” and that Byrne’s words would have been “equally harmful’ to Cole whether he’d said them when he was drunk or sober.