TWO Dubliners have been sentenced to prison after former Manchester United striker Andy Cole was racially abused on a flight.
The former England striker was "extremely humiliated" after Lee Byrne (28) called him "Mr black man" and a "spook" on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to the UK, a court heard.
Byrne – of Corduff Court, Blanchardstown, Dublin – was handed two 20-week sentences for the racial abuse and for being drunk on a plane. The sentences will run concurrently after he pleaded guilty to both charges.
Mr Byrne's fellow Dubliner, Gregory Horan (26), of Sycamore View, Castleknock, Dublin, will serve 10 weeks in prison for being drunk on a plane. He was not accused of abusing Cole.
Speaking afterwards, the footballer said he was very happy with the verdict.
"I'm very happy with the verdict, however this behaviour cannot be tolerated and needs to be stamped out," he said.
"This verdict sends a message to others that this type of behaviour/attitude is not acceptable.
"We need to set a precedent for the up and coming youth of today in order for positive progress."
Both Byrne and Horan were travelling to a stag do on a 9.30am flight to the UK, when cabin crew noticed the two had brought alcohol on board.
Staff confiscated a two-thirds-full bottle of rum from them, but not before the men had "downed their drinks".
The two men kicked the seats in front of them, and flight crew claimed every second word they said was a swear word.
When the women in front of them moved, Byrne shifted his attention to Cole.
After Cole did not react to the men, Byrne repeatedly called him "Mr black man".
This was "upsetting and insulting" to Cole, said Rachel Faux for the prosecution at Minshull Street Crown Court, adding that Byrne thought it was "politically correct" to call him that.
Byrne also called the former England striker a "spook", leading Cole to get "very angry and upset".
Cole told Byrne to "leave it", at which point the Irishman said he meant "spook" as in MI5 and MI6 spies.
Cole was not at the sentencing, but said in a statement that he was "extremely humiliated and alarmed by the racial harassment and the harassment of other passengers".
"I do a lot of work surrounding racism in football, have been a victim in the past. I am worried my children may suffer the same in future," he added.
Defence barrister Corinne Ransom said Byrne was "seriously remorseful" for his drunken actions and had offered Cole compensation of £1,000 (€1,200).
Judge Mushtaq Khokhar said: "To Mr Cole it matters not if [the abuse] came from a drunk or sober person at the time – it is equally hurtful.
"If a passenger had confronted you it would have been a violent confrontation and could have endangered safety."
Both Byrne and Horan were ordered to pay an £80 (€97) victim surcharge.