The university student who posted shocking racist internet messages after footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed with heart failure has been jailed today.
Liam Stacey, from Pontypridd, south Wales, admitted making the comments on Twitter and was sent to prison for 56 days.
His posts were forwarded to police by disgusted fellow users and the 21-year-old undergraduate could also be thrown off his biology degree course after his fellow students launched a campaign to have him kicked out.
His tweets – which started with ‘LOL [laugh out loud]. **** Muamba. He’s dead!!!’ – also provoked widespread revulsion and a furious reaction from several Premier League stars.
Sobbing and shaking as he was taken away in handcuffs this morning, Stacey was briefly hugged by friends and his parents.
Jailing him District Judge John Charles said: 'In my view there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence.
When Muamba collapsed, 'it was not the football world who was praying for him... everybody was praying for his life,' he said.
Judge Charles added that his 'vile and abhorrent' comments instigated many other abusive tweets aimed at poor Fabrice Muamba.
Bolton player Muamba was gravely ill after collapsing during a FA Cup tie between his side and Tottenham.
The 23-year-old’s condition is improving and he is now walking and watching TV, but as he lay in intensive care clinging to life the insensitive tweets caused outrage.
Stacey's sentence prompted a heated debate on Twitter.
Among those applauding the judge's decision was Lord Sugar, who tweeted: 'good job, be warned idiots'.
Others claimed the decision was too harsh given the student's previously clean criminal record.
But Jim Brisbane, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wales, said racist language was inappropriate in any setting and through any media.
'We hope this case will serve as a warning to anyone who may think that comments made online are somehow beyond the law,' he added.
After pleading guilty to inciting racial hatred a fortnight ago Stacey was released on bail on the condition he stayed off Twitter and other social networking sites.
Stacey appeared close to tears in court as the details of his comments were first relayed to magistrates.
Prosecutor Lisa Jones told a court: ‘Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch and was believed to have died. Shortly after, Stacey posted on Twitter: “LOL [laugh out loud], **** Muamba. He’s dead.”
‘A number of persons on the site took issue with the posting and he responded to them furthering his message.’
She went on to describe Stacey’s racist comments directed at other Twitter users – some of whom were black men – which are too offensive to publish.
Stacey told police he had written his own vile tweets after drinking while celebrating the Welsh rugby team’s Grand Slam victory this month. He was arrested in the early hours of the following morning at his home in Swansea.
He had drunk up to eight pints of beer and described his drunkenness as an eight on a scale of one to 10.
Magistrates heard how the student attempted to ‘distance himself’ from the comments by saying his account had been hacked into.
And he sent a text message to a friend saying: ‘I said something about Muamba that I shouldn’t have and tweeted back to some people who abused me.
‘Getting police on me now which isn’t good at all.’ He later tried to delete his Twitter page.
Gareth Jones, defending, said Stacey 'is completely ashamed of his behaviour that evening'.
He said that reaction to his comments had been widespread, he was no longer welcome at the university campus and he 'feared reprisals'.
He insisted that Stacey, who has an otherwise clean character, is not a racist and has friends from other ethnic backgrounds.
'On the night in question his comments were vile, he admits that,' he said.
He added that, although the comments portray him as a 'bigot', he was actually 'a kind and caring person', who felt 'genuine remorse'.
He asked the judge to leave Stacey, a third-year biology student, at liberty to allow him to take final exams.
He said he was doing 'extremely well' on his course and had ambitions to become a forensic scientist but added that that was now very unlikely and he would already 'pay dearly for the rest of his life' for what he had done.
Swansea University says it strongly disassociated itself from any racist tweets and had begun its own formal disciplinary process into the matter.
A petition calling for him to be chucked out of the University now has more than 200 signatures.
Twitter user Elliot Pawley said: 'Hopefully Liam Stacey will get kicked out of Swansea uni, people need to realise that what they can’t say/do anything on the internet!'
The student union also distanced themselves from Stacey and his racist remarks.
Student President Luke James said: 'We have a strong record of campaigning against racism. Our students have been united in condemning these comments.'