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Footballer guilty over fans gesture
Former Blackburn Rovers footballer Colin Kazim-Richards has been found guilty of making a homophobic gesture at a match while playing against one of his previous clubs.
In the first case of this kind to reach court, the 27-year-old claimed he was bantering with the crowd when he allegedly made a homophobic gesture towards them while playing against Brighton and Hove Albion.
But magistrate Darren Reynolds, sitting at Brighton Magistrates' Court, told the footballer they accepted the evidence of the four prosecution witnesses and said: "We find that these gestures were insulting and believe that you were aware that such gestures would be insulting."
Kazim-Richards was fined £750, ordered to pay £620 court costs and a £75 victim surcharge after being found guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, within the sight or hearing of a person, likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
He refused to speak to waiting media as he left the court building through a side entrance and got into a taxi.
Following the court's verdict, the player's barrister Stan Reiz said he would be appealing against the conviction.
The father of two young children, who was known as the Coca Cola Kid after being bought by Brighton and Hove Albion with proceeds won in a competition run by the drinks company, was on loan to Blackburn when he was seen making the gestures during Blackburn's Championship match against Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on February 12 last year.
Dressed in a navy blue suit and tie, the player, who gave his address as Bishops Stortford but who currently lives in Turkey, said he was being booed and being called names when he turned around and made a "wanker" gesture behind his back to the crowd to join in with their banter, the court heard.
Kazim-Richards demonstrated to the magistrates the sign he had made behind his back and told them: "I was interacting with the fans. I was basically doing what they were doing to me.
"I was having a bit of banter back."
Prosecutor Simon Allen told the court that the player had mimicked pulling his shorts down, put his left arm behind his bottom and made a homophobic gesture towards the Brighton and Hove Albion crowd.
At one point he was seen by a witness backing into Brighton player Wayne Bridge and simulating a sex act which was deemed to be homophobic, the court was told.
Mr Allen said the Brighton and Hove Albion fans were chanting "you fat bastard" and "you're fat and you know you are" at him.
He said: "It seems that the player reacted to this and he mimicked pulling down his shorts and with his left hand behind his back mimicked that he had something in his hand and moved it back and forward."
Mr Allen said that each time he did this the chants from the crowd grew louder.
Christopher Cannon and his son Daryl, who were working as match day press stewards at the Amex, told the court they saw Kazim-Richards make the gesture more than once, found it offensive and perceived it to be homophobic.
Mr Cannon junior said: "I perceived it as a very wrong thing to do, particularly for someone who's involved with the Kick It Out Campaign.
"Racism and homophobia are on the same level."
Season ticket holder Darren Hastings said he noticed Kazim-Richards make the obscene gesture four or five times during the match.
He said he was disappointed that neither the linesman or referee reacted to what was going on and said: "It was utterly disgusting.
"I understand that football players receive a number of gestures or comments from the crowd but I certainly did not expect to see a football player perform that gesture on the pitch."
But London-born Kazim-Richards, who now plays for Turkish club Bursaspor, said he did not agree with discrimination in "any shape or form" and told the court he had been an ambassador for the Kick It Out Campaign.
He described himself as a "flamboyant" player who had interacted with the crowd to "acknowledge" and "accept" the banter but that he would never make a homophobic gesture.
Mr Reiz said that hand gestures were made during football matches all the time and that due to Brighton having a large gay community an innocent hand gesture made behind his back had been perceived as being homophobic.
He said that Kazim-Richards "promoted diversity" and that for him to put that to one side to make a homophobic gesture "beggared belief".
The court also heard from three character witnesses who described Kazim-Richards as polite, approachable and respectful.
Outside court, Pc Darren Balkham, football liaison officer for Sussex Police and Brighton and Hove Albion, said they hoped that today's conviction would show that homophobia was not acceptable on the terraces or in society.
He said: "The Brighton fans have been subjected to a lot of homophobic abuse over many years and this was somewhat of a test case involving a professional footballer."
Pc Balkham said Kazim-Richard's actions stepped over the line of what was reasonable and acceptable banter at a football match and added that it was not acceptable to do something like that on the pitch.
He said: "This was the first case where a professional footballer has been convicted of making a homophobic gesture towards the crowd.
"I have been doing this job for 15 seasons and Brighton fans have been subjected during that time to pockets of homophobic abuse around the country.
"We are where racism was 20 years ago but I do not think it is going to take us 20 years to catch up with society as it is today.
"We deal with homophobic incidents day in, day out. On the football side of it, we have had to educate people.
"Colin Kazim-Richards played for Brighton. He knew what Brighton is about and he admitted that in court.
"People do things in the heat of the moment but when you are on show like a professional footballer is, you are always on show.
"When you do something like this, you have to take the consequences."
Pc Balkham said he had been in constant contact with the Football Association, which had told him it would not be taking any action until the court case concluded.
But he said it had little power to do anything now the footballer plays in Turkey.