TWO Dubliners have been jailed after former Manchester United star Andy Cole was racially abused during a flight from Ireland to Britain.
Lee Byrne, 28, was jailed for 20 weeks after calling the footballer “Mr Black Man” and “spook” while drunk on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Manchester in December 2013.
His companion Gregory Horan, 26, was given a 10-week sentence for being drunk on the plane.
The incident left the former England striker feeling “extremely humiliated and degraded”, he claimed in a witness statement read out by the prosecution on behalf of Cole during the trial.
Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court heard this week that unemployed Byrne had been drinking before travelling to a stag do on the 9.30am flight along with fellow flyer Horan.
They had insisted on staying on the plane despite being asked if they wished to disembark before take-off and immediately caused trouble for the cabin crew and other passengers.
After swearing at crew members who asked them to hand over a bottle of rum they smuggled onto the plane, the pair began kicking the chairs of two female passengers sat in front of them until they moved seats.
It was then that Byrne turned his attention to Cole, 42, calling him “Mr Black Man”.
“Where I’m from it’s politically correct to address you as Mr Black Man,” he said.
But despite the former player’s protests, telling the Irishman to “just leave it”, Byrne continued by using the racist term “spook” to refer to Cole.
He later claimed he only intended to refer to spies by using the word.
Cole’s lawyer told the court that the Englishman, who is involved with the Football Association’s anti-racism Kick It Out campaign, had been left very “angry and upset” by the incident.
In a statement read out at sentencing on Tuesday, the footballer added: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Byrne and Horan were arrested at Manchester Airport when the plane touched down.
Byrne, of Corduff Court in 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 Sycamore View in Castleknock, Dublin, admitted being drunk on an aircraft.
Both men have since moved to a temporary address on Roseville Road in Leeds, the court was told.
The court also heard that they have shown remorse for their actions.
Byrne’s lawyer said the 28-year-old had previous convictions for drink-related offences and threatening behaviour. His actions were “reckless” and he does not hold “entrenched racist views”, she added.
Horan’s lawyer claimed his client had a history of drug and alcohol problems and had acknowledged that his behaviour on the flight was “dangerous”.
But both men were jailed by Judge Mushtaq Khokar on Tuesday, April 15 and were both ordered to pay a £80 victim surcharge.
Byrne’s words would have been “equally harmful” to Cole, whether he was drunk or sober while saying them, and the pair could have endangered the safety of everyone on the plane with their actions, Judge Khokar added.