Actions of fan who mocked death of young mascot ‘utterly deplorable', says judge

The actions of a football supporter who mocked the death of mascot Bradley Lowery during a match against his favourite team were “utterly deplorable”, a judge has said.

Dale Houghton, 31, admitted a public order offence at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court following an incident at Sheffield Wednesday’s clash with Sunderland on Friday.

Pictures circulated on X, formerly Twitter, showing two men laughing at Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium, with one of them – Houghton – holding up a picture of Bradley to the camera.

Sunderland fan Bradley captured the nation’s heart during his battle with neuroblastoma, but succumbed to the illness aged six in 2017.

He was a mascot for his beloved club and, in the months before his death, led England out at Wembley alongside former Black Cats striker Jermaine Defoe.

Mr Defoe has said he was “appalled” by the actions of the supporter.

Houghton, from Rotherham, was bailed and will be sentenced on November 17.

District Judge James Gould told him “your actions are utterly deplorable” and that all sentence options were open, including a prison sentence.

Judge Gould said he had seen the photograph, which had been circulated.

He told Houghton: “You are holding up your phone and you were plainly revelling in what you were doing.”

The defendant, who has blond hair and a beard, sat in the dock flanked by two security officers and wearing a pink coat over a grey sweatshirt and grey joggers.

He listened as prosecutor Jade Scott read out part of a handwritten personal statement from Bradley’s mother, Gemma, who said: “This image has made me feel so many emotions, I find it hard to put into words.”

She said it was “disrespectful” to her son but also to other children who were suffering from cancer.

Ms Lowery said: “I feel upset that these two men have used this image of Bradley to get a reaction from the Sunderland fans.”

Judge Gould noted that the statement went on to describe the incident as “unforgiveable” and that “she has nothing but loving memories of Bradley”.

Ms Scott told the court that Houghton, of Black Moor Road, Wickersley, Rotherham, gave “full and frank admissions” when he was interviewed by the police.

She said he told the officers he was taking part in “enjoyable banter” and “that was the reason he was smiling”.

Constance Coombs, defending, said her client was “disgusted by what he did”.

Ms Coombs said there had been “mutual goading” between the Wednesday and Sunderland fans and he “took it too far”.

She said the Sunderland fans were waving Sheffield United badges at the home fans and “my client took the deplorable decision to show the picture of Bradley Lowery”.

Ms Coombs said that what he did was “out of character” and “he’s very remorseful for his actions”.

The solicitor said her client was a window-fitter and he had lost his job as a result of what he did.

She said: “His behaviour was totally unacceptable.”

And she added: “It maybe alcohol plays more in relation to the offence than he may have originally have recognised.”

Houghton admitted one count of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress by displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation, which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

He was given bail on condition that he does not attend regulated football grounds in the UK, does not go within a mile of Hillsborough Stadium on Sheffield Wednesday match-days and completes a drug intervention programme.

Houghton left the court by a back door with security staff helping him get into a waiting black car as he concealed his face with the pink hood of his coat.

Earlier, a statement was read to the court from Sheffield Wednesday’s chief operating officer Liam Dooley, who said the actions of Houghton were “utterly deplorable behaviour” which “in no way represents the values of the club”.

The court heard that it is probable that Houghton will face a football banning order.

The judge was told he has a previous conviction for an “unrelated” offence four years ago which resulted in a fine.

The picture of Houghton smiling and holding the phone caused widespread revulsion when it was circulated at the weekend.

Ms Lowery posted on Facebook: “Understandably people are angry, if I wasn’t so upset I’d be angry too.

“Bradley was and still is well loved in the football community, which I’m eternally grateful for.”

She said: “I want to thank Sheffield Wednesday for their quick condemnation, and the support their fans have shown.”

A fundraising page set up by Sheffield Wednesday fans after the incident has raised more than £18,500.

Watch Jeremy Kyle and Nicola Thorp on TalkTV’s brand new breakfast show, TalkToday.

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