Sweet hits out at social media for reporting of racist allegations

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet
Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet has hit out at the reporting of the unfounded allegations into racist abuse from the club’s supporters during last Tuesday night’s League One match with Accrington Stanley.

In the game, which Luton won 4-1, a BBC Radio Lancashire commentator claimed he heard racist remarks towards visiting striker Offrande Zanzala, while assistant BBC Sport producer Karen Fazackerley, who was in the away end, alleged on Twitter that defender Michael Ihiekwe was the victim of monkey chants from Luton supporters.

That was then retweeted by ITV presenter Jacqui Oatley to almost 150,000 followers, despite no evidence being found, while the Sun's online section also ran a story interviewing Stanley forward Zanzala, who hadn't actually heard the supposed chants, and are yet to print anything regarding Town's findings since.

Sweet went on Talksport to discuss the matter on Thursday and was back on the radio station this morning, where he said: “We’ve worked our socks off for the last 10 years to get ourselves into this position of what is really an untarnished image in this respect.

“Our local community that’s full of Asians and Eastern Europeans and Afro Caribbeans, they all respect our position and we’ve got a great relationship with everybody involved in the community.

“The real crime here for me is not one that concerns racism as there wasn’t any, but the reporting of it on social media before any investigation takes place is the real crime because it damages us.

“If we were a PLC this would affect our share prices and this is a really serious issue.

“It could well affect the planning applications that’s coming forward, that could be hundreds of millions of pounds of damage.

“We’ve worked our socks off for 10 years to make sure Kenilworth Road is an open, inclusive environment for everybody and anyone to come without fear of anything.”

Sweet also went on to discuss the investigation conducted by the club, in particular the stewards who were on duty that night, which he once again reiterated had turned up absolutely nothing of a racist nature from the nearly 8,500 supporters in the stadium.

He added: "We’ve continued that investigation thoroughly and very, very quickly as we don’t want it affecting our football performance and more importantly, a planning application that we’ve got in with the council for a new football stadium. These things can affect them, it’s very political.

“So we wanted to do this very promptly and very thoroughly, so the result of it is that after that investigation we found absolutely no evidence whatsoever regarding either report of racism at Kenilworth Road last Tuesday night.

“For anyone who thinks this is a bit less than impartial, our investigation included discussions with police, and all of our stewards who have to have an independent responsibility at football matches and for the record, around three quarters of the stewards in that area are from a black, asian and ethnic minority background.

“When we spoke to them, the only time they’ve ever mentioned anything about racism has normally come from the away end, on previous occasions, not I hasten to add last Tuesday, but on previous occasions.

“The six senior stewards, the supervisors that were in that area, they have got something like nearly 100 years experience in stewarding.

"These are good guys that we’ve had for a long, long time. A few of them work at Wembley, so they’re experienced people and they will conduct their investigations really thoroughly.

"They’ve done their own work and come back to us and found nothing at all.

“So that’s the result of it, and we put it a statement, the police have got to do their own investigation, but theirs takes a little bit longer because of the red tape that’s involved in that, but we can be a little bit more quickly.

"We listened to 90 minutes of the game, we focused on the crowd, and we had a number of our staff do that, independently, not together.

"In addition to that, there’s audio commentary of both Accrington and Luton commentaries where we tried to listen to the abuse that was reported behind the commentary box.

"There was one incident, where an elderly gentleman who was nearly 90, did suggest that somebody from the north didn’t have a parent and we’ll have a chat with him about that, but that’s about as bad as it got."