Four Chelsea football fans have been convicted of racist violence and given suspended prison sentences after a black commuter was pushed off a Paris Métro carriage in Paris
while fans chanted: “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”
The incident in February 2015 before a game between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain was filmed by a British
man, Paul Nolan, and the footage was published by the Guardian. It sparked an outcry over racism in sport, with politicians and the then French
and British prime ministers condemning the attack.
Only two of the accused attended the criminal trial in Paris for aggravated racist violence. The other two were tried in their absence. The four were ordered to pay the victim €10,000 (£8,500) in total.
The French state prosecutor said the trial was a defining moment in anti-racism cases and a “clear-cut example” of racism: it was rare to have such an unabashed violently racist incident that was brazenly accompanied by the chanting seen in the video footage.
Souleymane Sylla, the 35-year-old Parisian salesman who had been trying to get home on the Métro when he was repeatedly pushed out of the carriage by Chelsea fans shouting racist chants, told the panel of three judges his life had been “shaken up” by the violence. He had had to stop work for different periods, did not use the Métro for nine months and had been on medication, he said.
Outside court Sylla, a father of four, told the Guardian: “I am glad to see justice done.” He said he had not been afraid to face the convicted men in court. “I have been waiting for justice for two years.”
Joshua Parsons, 22, from Dorking, Surrey, who lost his London finance job after the incident, described himself in court as a trainee scaffolder. He was convicted of racist violence and given an eight-month suspended prison sentence.
Parsons admitted in court that he had repeatedly pushed Sylla out of the carriage but said it was not a racist act and that he had not chanted racist songs.
Speaking via an interpreter, Parsons said he had arrived in Paris the night before the match, slept in a hotel near the Gare du Nord and spent from midday to 6pm in a bar where he had five alcoholic drinks. He was on the way to the Chelsea-PSG match when the incident took place.
Parsons told the court the Métro was packed and the atmosphere was “hot and hostile”. He said Sylla was “bigger than me” and when the commuter tried to get on the carriage “I pushed back”. He said the pushing was not related to the colour of Sylla’s skin. “The only time I knew the skin colour was when I saw the video afterwards,” he said.
Questioned by the state prosecutor, Parsons said that after he pushed Sylla the first time, he chanted “Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea,” and after he pushed him a second time, he chanted “Fuck the IRA”. He said the chant “We’re racist, we’re racist and that’s the way we like it” was shouted in another carriage; he did not sing it and he “did not like that chant”.
Parsons said: “I’m very sorry for Mr Sylla but I wasn’t racist in any way.”
Parsons’ lawyer said his life had been affected by the “total hysteria” of the media, members of which had arrived at his home after he was identified as one of the fans in the video. Parsons, who once posed for a photograph with Nigel Farage, said journalists had come on to “my land” and rung his grandmother’s doorbell every half an hour.
He said he had lost his finance job in Mayfair, London, and had briefly moved to Cornwall where he retrained as a scaffolder. His lawyer said Parsons’ entourage described him as a “well-brought-up boy” and two former dormitory friends from his boarding school, who were not white, had testified that he was not racist.
James Fairbairn, 25, a civil engineer from Kent, who also appeared in the Paris court, was convicted of racist violence and given a six-month suspended sentence. He was accused in court of having made a hand gesture towards Sylla, in which he pointed his finger towards his face and neck to indicate that Sylla’s skin colour was the reason he was being pushed off the train. He was not accused of pushing Sylla.
Fairbairn denied making a hand gesture towards Sylla and said: “I haven’t done anything racist in any way.”
Two other men, William Simpson, 37, from Ashford, and Richard Barklie, a former police officer in the Northern Ireland RUC, were not present in court. They were each given 12-month suspended prison sentences.
Both had answered a questionnaire for the French investigation in which they had denied racist violence.
The pleas in court by Parsons and Fairbairn that they had not been guilty of a racist act were brushed aside by the prosecutor, Julie Duwez, who said the trial had become a major political and media event. She thanked the British police for their close cooperation with the investigation.
Sylla’s lawyer, Jim Michel-Gabriel, told the court the crime was the definition of “hatred and unashamed racism”.
The court was shown the video that ran on the Guardian website soon after the incident in February 2015, as well as longer CCTV video footage from the Métro system that showed the incident. Duwez told the court that the violence was such that Sylla’s “feared he would die”.
After the incident, all of the men except Fairbairn were banned from Chelsea and England football matches for the maximum of five years by a UK magistrates court. Fairbairn was given a three-year banning order.
Chelsea declined to comment but are understood to be satisfied with the verdict.
When the men were handed football banning orders in July last year, Chelsea separately banned them for life from Stamford Bridge and from buying tickets, saying their behaviour was “abhorrent, against all of the club’s values and falls way below the standards the club expects of supporters attending our games”.
It said at the time: “The club will continue to take action against supporters we feel behave in an antisocial manner and will cooperate with the relevant police authorities in any future investigations. Chelsea FC is proud of its diversity, which runs throughout the club – from our owner to our multicultural playing squad and backroom team, the staff and our fans.”