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Paris court hands Chelsea fans suspended terms over racist metro taunts

Screengrab of Paul Nolan's 2015 video, Richelieu-Drouot metro station, Paris.

A Paris court on Tuesday handed four Chelsea fans suspended prison terms, almost two years after their racist chants in the Paris metro brought global notoriety to supporters of the west London club.


The court also ordered the accused to pay the victim, Frenchman Souleymane Sylla, €10,000 ($10,400) in compensation. The trial revisited the February 2015 incident that took place before a Champions League clash in the French capital against Paris Saint-Germain.

In a video filmed at Richelieu-Drouot metro station, Chelsea fans are seen blocking a black man from entering a busy metro car before violently pushing him away when he tried to board. The fans are first heard chanting “Chelsea, Chelsea.” The chanting en masse is later heard escalating to “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”

Then British prime minister David Cameron apologised for the actions of the UK nationals.

The scene was captured and shared by British expatriate Paul Nolan, a fellow passenger on the platform at Richelieu-Drouot.

“The man pushed off the metro is a victim and the Chelsea fans think they can get away with it,” Nolan told FRANCE 24 at the time. “I think people should know about it and there should be consequences.”

Nolan said the rowdy fans had been intimidating passengers and staff well before the racist chants heard on his film. “No one really dared to get on the metro. Even the metro staff were keeping their distance because it looked like a fight could break out at any point,” he said.

“It would have been nice if people had gotten involved [to help Sylla], but the Chelsea fans thought they owned the metro and any provocation probably would have ended in violence.”

Speaking to French radio station Europe 1 before Tuesday’s trial, Sylla said the incident remained seared in his memory.

“I remember it as if were yesterday,” he said. “I was pushed more than three times. It was afterwards that they impressed upon me that I had no right to get on the train because I am black. I have their faces in front of me. Ever since this story happened, I have done everything to forget. I even took medication. But it always comes back to me. Not only am I humiliated, but most people with black skin feel humiliated. I want these people condemned, for justice to be done – no more than that.”

Two anti-racism organisations, SOS Racisme and the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, joined the case as civil plaintiffs.

The public prosecutor demanded one-year suspended terms for Richard Barklie, 52, and William Simpson, 27, neither of whom appeared at the Paris courthouse Tuesday. Shorter suspended terms of six and eight months were requested for James Fairbairn, 25, and Joshua Parsons, 22, respectively.

In July 2015, an English court banned four Chelsea fans -- including Barklie, Simpson and Parsons -- from attending major football matches at home or abroad for up to five years over the same Paris metro incident. One of the men accused in that case told Stratford Magistrates' Court in London that he did shove Sylla off the train but denied he was motivated by the colour of his skin, saying instead there was no room in the metro car.

"Mr. Sylla, and it's my view, was the only one using aggression,” Richard Barklie, 52, from Northern Ireland, told that London court. “I did push him, I put my hand out to stop him getting into this space,” said Barklie, a former police officer who has worked as a director at an independent NGO, the World Human Rights Forum.

Chelsea FC issued lifetime bans to the same four fans banned in the London court from attending matches at its Stamford Bridge ground. In a statement, the club called the fans behaviour “abhorrent, against all of the club’s values and falls way below the standards the club expects of supporters attending our games”.

In his ruling in the Stratford case, District Judge Gareth Branston told the London court that the incident had “further damaged the already tarnished image of British football in Europe”.

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