Coventry City fan who threw smoke bomb into crowd before Sunderland AFC game at Stadium of Light gets five-year ban from football grounds
Daniel Nealon, 28, picked up an already ‘live’ smoke bomb, waved it above his head – and tossed it into a crowd before kick-off at the Stadium of Light on April 13, a court heard.
Magistrates in South Tyneside were told Nealon, of David Wood Drive, Coventry, had served a previous eight-year ban for football-related offences which expired in 2016.
They described his offence as falling into the highest possible category – but spared him jail, instead suspending his sentence for 18 months.
The same court also heard how fellow Sky Blues supporter Ben Thackeray, 36, was arrested post-match for jumping on the back of a police officer to attack another man who was being led away in handcuffs.
Thackeray, of Delamere, Bedworth, Warwickshire, who had drunk five bottles of alcohol, admitted punching his victim on the temple.
He did so in the belief he had been attacked by the same man in an earlier confrontation which saw his teeth knocked out, the court heard.
His case was adjourned to give magistrates further time to consider his sentence and whether to inflict a Football Banning Order (FBO) demanded by police.
Prosecutor Paul Anderson said Nealon’s actions were among a significant number of others by Coventry fans inside the ground which had drawn complaints from Sunderland supporters.
He said the smoke grenade had been let off in a bar by another fan, adding: “Mr Nealon was seen to pick it up and wave it above his head and throw it into the crowd. He was seen by officers, and arrested.”
When interviewed, Nealon admitted he had not known if it was dangerous and had tossed it away believing that it probably would not have caused injury.
Mr Anderson added: “He said that he was just being a drunken idiot. What makes matters worse is Mr Nealon’s record.”
In a case heard separately, Mr Anderson told the court that Thackeray was arrested less than an hour after the end of the game, just yards from the ground.
He said: “There was clearly quite a bit of disorder at the Sunderland and Coventry game and the defendant became embroiled.
“A man was lying on the floor surrounded by a group who appears to be punching and kicking him and shouting that he had assaulted them.
“As he’s being led away from the disorder, Mr Thackeray ran towards him and shouted, ‘He’s ******* punched me, I’ve lost my teeth’.
“Mr Thackeray has gone over the back of the officer and hit this guy. Mr Thackeray is arrested for the assault.”
Mr Anderson said Thackery had claimed the man he attacked had punched him earlier when he intervened to help a man with a walking stick who was being attacked near the River Wear
Kathryn Smales, defending Nealon, said he had been drinking alcohol on his journey to Sunderland and continued to do so on arrival.
She added: “It’s accepted that he didn’t bring this smoke bomb or set it off. He has picked it up.
“He can’t comment further about his intentions when he did that due to intoxicant but has made full admissions.
“He is in full-time employment and has a partner and a mortgage. He has said that he would lose employment and home if he is jailed.”
Chris Wilson, defending Thackeray, said: “He’s admitted punching this man. He lost his teeth and had significant damage.”
David Randall, chairman of the bench, told Nealon: “We think it falls into the highest category by the high number of people in the vicinity, the environment of a football ground, and the fact that a flare was thrown and had serious possible consequences.
“We consider this so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate, but this will be suspended.”
Nealon was given a 20-week sentence, reduced to 13 weeks due to pleading guilty to causing harassment, alarm or distress, suspended for 18 months and handed a five-year FBO.
He was also ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge and £85 costs.
Thackeray, who is of previous good character, admitted a charge of threatening behaviour and was granted unconditional bail.
He was ordered to appear before South Tyneside magistrates for sentence on Thursday, May 23.