Ian Wright says he forgives Tralee teenager who harassed him

Former Arsenal player Ian Wright says he forgives the Tralee teenager who harassed him.

18-year-old Patrick O’Brien of 8 Sycamore Court, Ashleigh Downs, Tralee pleaded guilty to two charges, arising from the harassment of the former player earlier this year.

Tralee District Court heard that Mr O’Brien sent a string of up to 20 messages, which were “crass, racist and threatening.”

Patrick O’Brien pleaded guilty to two charges: On the 11th May, 2020, at a place unknown in the district court area of Tralee, he harassed Ian Wright.

On the same date and at the same location, Mr O’Brien also sent by telephone a message that was grossly offensive, obscene and menacing.

Sergeant Eoin O’Donovan gave evidence in Tralee District Court today, where he outlined the facts of the case.

He said that on the date in question, Patrick O’Brien was playing FIFA – a computer game – with his friends when he downloaded Ian Wright’s character in the game.

Mr Wright’s virtual character is included in the legends section in FIFA.

The court heard that, after losing a virtual tournament, Patrick O’Brien got mad as “Ian Wright’s character didn’t perform as well as hoped.”

He then went on Instagram and privately contacted Ian Wright, sending messages which the sergeant said were “crass, racist and threatening.”

Patrick O’Brien also said that he if got COVID, he’d cough on Mr Wright, giving him a death sentence and putting him on his death bed.

Mr Wright became aware of the messages the following day and posted samples of them publicly; Patrick O’Brien’s social media accounts were then inundated with messages from across Ireland and the UK.

Two victim impact statements by Mr Wright were read to the court: the first, written shortly after the incident, stated that Mr Wright experienced such racism years ago and was shocked and disappointed that it has reoccurred now.

The second statement, written last week, read: “Patrick, I forgive you. I believe in redemption for everyone. I hope you and those who either taught or enabled this hate will learn from this and change for the better.”

Defending solicitor Pat Mann said Mr O’Brien has no previous convictions, he comes from an upstanding family, the incident was a “rush of blood to the head” and Mr O’Brien has been very co-operative with gardaí.

Judge David Waters said he was concerned that, despite the proliferation of drivel on social media, Mr O’Brien sought out and messaged the real Ian Wright.

He remanded the 18-year-old on continuing bail, sought the production of a probation report and adjourned the case until January 27th.

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Former Arsenal player Ian Wright says he forgives the Tralee teenager who harassed him. 

18-year-old Patrick O’Brien of 8 Sycamore Court, Ashleigh Downs, Tralee pleaded guilty to two charges, arising from the harassment of the former player earlier this year.

 Tralee District Court heard that Mr O’Brien sent a string of up to 20 messages, which were “crass, racist and threatening.”

 Eamonn Hickson was there for Radio Kerry – and he now joins me from our Tralee studio.

 What happened in court yesterday?

Patrick O’Brien pleaded guilty to two charges: On the 11th May, 2020, at a place unknown in the district court area of Tralee, he harassed Ian Wright.

On the same date and at the same location, Mr O’Brien also sent by telephone a message that was grossly offensive, obscene and menacing.

Sergeant Eoin O’Donovan gave evidence in Tralee District Court yesterday, where he outlined the facts of the case.

He said that on the date in question, Patrick O’Brien was playing FIFA – a computer game – with his friends when he downloaded Ian Wright’s character in the game. He said that the game has characters which are representations of actual footballers, including their styles and traits. One feature of the game is the Legends section – Ian Wright is one such player featured. Patrick O’Brien downloaded Ian Wright’s character and took part in a tournament.

However, after losing this virtual tournament, Patrick O’Brien got mad as “Ian Wright’s character didn’t perform as well as hoped.” He then went on Instagram and privately contacted Ian Wright, sending messages which the sergeant said were “crass, racist and threatening.”

While we won’t repeat some of the words that were sent to Mr Wright, I understand Judge David Waters sought a sample of them?

Yes, he said that the sergeant’s view is that they were crass, racist and threatening, however, he couldn’t take the garda’s word for it. Additionally, Patrick O’Brien was entitled to hear what words the court was aware of, ahead of its eventual judgement.

Outside of the words relating to race, Mr O’Brien also said that he if got COVID, he’d cough on Mr Wright, giving him a death sentence and putting him on his death bed.

The court heard that the messages were sent privately to Mr Wright.

When did Ian Wright become aware of these messages?

Mr Wright became aware of the messages the following day and posted samples of them publicly; Patrick O’Brien’s social media accounts were then inundated with messages from across Ireland and the UK and there was a huge fallout in the media. He deleted his accounts shortly afterwards.

Mr O’Brien’s mother and family also received messages online. Indeed, it was his mother who brought him to Tralee Garda Station to account for his actions. A statement was obtained from Mr Wright through Interpol which outlined his upset.

The garda sergeant said the teenager made full and frank admissions.

Ian Wright wrote two victim impact statements. Can you outline those?

In the first, written shortly after the incident, Mr Wright said the ordeal made him very emotional. He experienced such racism years ago and was shocked and disappointed that it has reoccurred now.

The second statement, written last week, read: “Patrick, I forgive you. I believe in redemption for everyone. I hope you and those who either taught or enabled this hate will learn from this and change for the better.”

Solicitor Pat Mann questioned Sergeant Eoin O’Donovan – what was the summary of this questioning?

Pat Mann put a number of things to the garda, including claims that Patrick O’Brien and his family are frightfully decent people, full of integrity, the incident was comprised a rush of blood to the head and that the teenager had not come to garda attention before. Sergeant O’Donovan agreed with everything.

Mr Mann also said that, while not using it as mitigation, his client posted the messages privately and not publicly. The garda agreed this was the case. The solicitor also said that the fallout from this incident remains online and claimed that if one were to type “Ian Wright” and “Patrick O’Brien” into a Google search, 42 million hits would come up.

The court also heard the teenager apologised to Mr Wright.

A reference letter was given to Judge David Waters, who said he maintains a certain view on the use of reference letters, but he did look at them.

In mitigation, solicitor Pat Mann said that the incident was “a symptom of modern living with the sheer numbers of devices.” However, it was something Judge Waters disagreed with. Can you explain more?

Judge Waters interrupted following this statement, saying he doesn’t agree. He said it’s merely co-incidental that this occurred. It’s a symptom of something else and, whether it was put on paper or on IG (Instagram) it was uttered by this individual. He said that an individual of Mr O’Brien’s age would hold these views and communicate those to a third party is disturbing.

Pat Mann raised the possibility of commissioning a probation report, saying that this young man – with the exception of this incident, which took a minute – has an unblemished record.

Judge Waters said that, given the accused’s age, he would need to see a probation report.

Before adjourning the case, Judge Waters elaborated on the aspect of publication. What was this about?

The judge said that, as he sees it, Ian Wright did nothing wrong in publishing the messages. He did the right thing by calling out a racist, did the right thing in calling out someone who sent such vile and unacceptable things. Judge Waters said that some people have the warped thinking that what you say or write is different to posting a message through IG.

He added, because Patrick O’Brien sent these messages, 100% of the responsibility falls upon him.

He remanded the 18-year-old on continuing bail and ordered him to reappear on January 27th.

Kerry Today – 26th November 2020