The family of Bradley Lowery were caused “distress” by the actions of a football fan who cruelly mocked him during a Sunderland match – but say the sentence which he has received is “fair”.
Bradley was diagnosed with the disease at 18 months old. His bravery led to him capturing the hearts of the nation and he formed a strong friendship with then-Black Cats striker Jermain Defoe.
On September 29, Sheffield Wednesday fan Dale Houghton, 31, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, used a picture of six-year-old Bradley to taunt Sunderland fans during a match at Hillsborough.
Following the game, an image surfaced on social media and Sheffield Wednesday launched an investigation with South Yorkshire Police.
Houghton was then arrested and charged with a public order offence. He admitted intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress by displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation, which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
At Sheffield Magistrates’ Court on Friday, Houghton was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison suspended for 18 months. He was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and handed a a banning order from all football stadiums for five years.
The court in Sheffield heard how he had lost two jobs as a result of his actions. Houghton’s defence said he “wished to express his deep remorse, certainly to Bradley Lowery’s family as well as to the general public”.
Judge Waite slammed Houghton’s actions as ‘utterly appalling’ and told him: “Your behaviour was disgraceful. You caused trauma to an already traumatised and grieving family.”
Following Bradley’s death, his mum Gemma, 40, set up the Bradley Lowery Foundation. The foundation supports families who are fundraising for treatment or equipment, which is not readily available on the NHS, helps to fund vital early childhood cancer research.
Lynn Murphy, co-founder and chief operations officer of the Bradley Lowery Foundation, spoke to ChronicleLive on Friday on behalf of Gemma and Bradley’s dad Carl, 40.
The 42-year-old: “I think, with the backlash that they’ve had on social media, this sentence was more than fair.
“His name is out there now, people know who he is. He’s lost quite a lot – his employment and probably some friends through it I’d imagine. Hopefully he will think before doing anything like this.
“We just want to put the whole sorry mess behind us and hope that lessons are learnt so this doesn’t happen again in the future.
“It’s caused a lot of distress to the family. Gemma is not just the CEO of the Bradley Lowery Foundation, more importantly, she’s Bradley’s mam and a grieving mam at that.
“Seeing her son portrayed in such a negative light to anger the supporters that supported Bradley’s campaign is extremely upsetting. There’s lots of mixed feelings – anger, sorrow – as you would expect.
“There was no expectations, it was a case of it’s in the hands of the law and they will do what they see fit. He’s realised what he’s done wrong and hopefully he never does it again.”
Lynn said working alongside football clubs and footballers can help families to raise the vital funds which they need for cancer treatment. She said there was concern that the case could prevent the families of other children battling cancer from working with football clubs.
Lynn said: “Bradley doesn’t just represent the foundation, he represents all children who are living with cancer.
“Situations like this can be off-putting for families. Families may say they don’t want to put their child in the public eye. We don’t want parents to feel put off or against working with football clubs for fear of this happening again.
“It’s been dealt with quite swiftly considering sometimes we can wait years for a situations like this to come to a head.
“Hopefully the fact there’s been a zero tolerance approach to this means it doesn’t stop families.
“We just hope it doesn’t happen again. Cancer doesn’t have any colours, we’re all in it together.”
Following the incident, the SWFC Women’s Supporters Group showed their support to Bradley’s family by setting up a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for the Bradley Lowery Foundation.
More than £29,000 has been raised and the money will be donated towards ‘Super Brad’s Pad’ – a holiday home which is being built in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, to offer respite to families.
Lynn said the amounted raised and donated to the Bradley Lowery Foundation has helped to turn what is a negative situation into a positive one.
She said: “Sheffield Wednesday have been absolutely amazing. The fan base was absolutely phenomenal. There were messages pouring in with sorrow that one of their fans had done this.
“Pre-Covid the cost of building Brad’s Pad was between £600,000 and £800,000 and post-Covid it is between £1.2m and £1.3m. The cost of materials and everything have just tripled in price.
“We are continuing to fundraise. We are getting lots of businesses coming forward offering support.”
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