A football fan who mocked the death of child mascot Bradley Lowery has been spared jail – as a judge branded his actions “utterly appalling”.
Dale Houghton, from Rotherham, received a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and was ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work.
The 32-year-old, who had been a Sheffield Wednesday season ticket holder for 25 years, was also given a five-year football banning order.
Bradley was diagnosed with rare cancer neuroblastoma when he was just 18 months old and died aged six in 2017.
Houghton – who pleaded guilty to a public order offence in October – was seen holding up a picture of Bradley and laughing in the stands at Sheffield Wednesday’s match against Sunderland at Hillsborough Stadium on Friday 29 September.
An image of the incident was met with outrage on social media and sparked an apology from Sheffield Wednesday.
In his sentencing remarks, the judge called the actions of Houghton “utterly appalling” and “disgraceful” and said the defendant “inflicted trauma on an already bereaved family”.
District Judge Marcus Waite told Houghton: “You showed callous disrespect to a brave young man who was rightly held in the highest esteem by football fans everywhere.”
Houghton, who had been drinking before the match, left the ground when Wednesday went 2-0 down, to go to the pub, and only found out later the scale of the turmoil he had caused, prosecutor Mark Hughes said.
Connie Coombs, defending, said her client accepted his actions were “outrageous”, “deplorable”, “atrocious” and a “heinous act”.
Ms Coombs said it was “a moment of utter stupidity in the context of back-and-forth between himself and the Sunderland fans”.
She said alcohol contributed to the offence, which was “out of character”.
Bradley was a mascot for both Sunderland and England, and formed a close bond with his beloved team’s striker Jermain Defoe, who called Bradley his “best mate”.
Shortly after the incident, Defoe said he was “appalled and saddened” by Bradley’s death being mocked.
Bradley’s mother previously told the court that she saw a picture of Houghton’s actions on Facebook.
Mrs Lowery said it “wasn’t just disrespectful to Bradley, but also to other people as well”, and it risked causing “so much emotional trauma to other children with cancer”.
“I feel upset that these men have used this image of Bradley in order to get a reaction from the Sunderland fans,” her statement said, adding that it was “unforgivable”.
The Bradley Lowery Foundation – a charity set up by Bradley’s mother – released a statement at the time, saying: “Whatever happened to ‘cancer has no colours’ let alone respect for a family that lost their baby to cancer.”
Following the incident, more than £11,000 was raised for the foundation amid an outpouring of support.