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Court refuses to ban racist fan

PUBLISHED: 14:30 18 August 2001 | UPDATED: 10:26 03 March 2010

MAGISTRATES have refused to ban a racist Ipswich football thug from domestic and international games despite an appeal from police to bar him from attending, or travelling to, matches.

MAGISTRATES have refused to ban a racist Ipswich football thug from domestic and international games despite an appeal from police to bar him from attending, or travelling to, matches.

Wayne Coplen, a former member of fascist organisations the National Front and the British National Party, was fined £750 and ordered to pay £60 costs for racially aggravated harassment shortly before Ipswich Town's crunch Premiership clash with Manchester City on May 7.

Three magistrates heard how the 34-year-old father had stood outside The Falcon pub in Queen's Street, Ipswich, in the hour before the match shouting "White Power", performing Nazi salutes and repeating racist and anti-Semitic obscenities within the hearing of police and passers-by.

And magistrates heard he had told police he would not run from trouble.

Their decision not to ban the racist football hooligan came just 24 hours before Ipswich Town's first Premiership match of the season against Sunderland – where an NF rally set for the same day has been banned by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Philip Jones, prosecuting, told South East Suffolk magistrates sitting yesterday, how police had filmed Coplen's behaviour on May 7 and arrested him at a later date.

Four police officers, who had been on duty outside the pub, told the court how a black-shirted Coplen had been among a group of around 30 chanting "supporters" from where he had repeatedly shouted racist abuse and demonstrated a Hitler-style salute.

"He was performing what I'd describe as a Nazi salute and shouting obscenities at a motor vehicle that passed initially and then at anything that passed in front of him," Pc John Cuff said.

Coplen was not arrested at the time due to an order from Superintendent Geoff Munns that arrests should not be made "to prevent any escalation of violence or disorder," he said.

Football liaison officer Pc Dave King told the court how an order was made to instead gather information to arrest Coplen at a later date.

"There was a large group of what I would call Ipswich Prominents," Pc King said of the crowd Coplen had been among. "Prominents" were not "normal Ipswich Town supporters", he added.

Pc King said Coplen had initially shouted obscenities at Manchester City fans and had been warned against inciting the crowd. "He appeared highly intoxicated," he said.

Pc Jason Winters said as well as shouting "White Power, White Power," Coplen had also yelled: "We are Kingfisher boys." Later this was explained as a reference to an Ipswich pub on the Chantry estate.

When arrested at his home in Hawthorn Drive on May 24, Coplen told officers: "I'm white and proud of it."

He was arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, though a search of his house found no racist literature, the court heard. He was later charged with racially aggravated harassment.

As a youth, he had been a member of both the BNP and National Front, Coplen told police who came to arrest him. He also said he had drunk around 10 pints of bitter on the day of the Premiership clash.

"I believe in the white race and I'm proud of it," he had said, adding that he was 100 pc "anti-Zionist".

Coplen had admitted causing harassment but denied it was racially aggravated.

He told the court the "racial issue all stemmed from one police officer" who had threatened him with a baton. Coplen said he had told the officer he was "acting like a Nazi".

"Then I gave him the first salute which was Zeig Heil, White Power," he said, adding he thought the policeman had been from Manchester.

Racial abuse that followed came from "feelings that I had years ago", Coplen told the court at his day-long trial.

As a 15-year-old skinhead, he had been recruited into the BNP, he said.

Magistrates, who watched a video of the incident, found that the evidence showed Coplen's actions had been racially aggravated and pointed to the fact he had admitted that he would have found his language offensive if he were Jewish.

The prosecution applied for Coplen to be banned from home and away fixtures under new legislation to stop football hooligans travelling to, or attending, international, European and domestic games. And they asked for him to be banned from Ipswich town centre during home games.

"It's very rare for us to make football related arrests," said Pc King, arguing for the ban. "They [Ipswich prominents] work as a closed unit. We wish to curb their behaviour. The group is quite organised and we want to put a stop to it."

Pc King said Coplen had admitted "if there was disorder he wouldn't run". He was among a group who was "not just there to watch football," Pc King added.

Coplen said that he regularly followed England away, more often than he attended Ipswich Town games, and had "never been in any trouble" with them.

"I'd still like the chance to follow England away," he told magistrates.

After deliberately for almost an hour, chairman of the bench Brian Morden said magistrates had refused the police's appeal for a ban. Though Coplen had been arrested within an hour of a match and was said to associate with Ipswich Prominents he had "no recent convictions for violence at or near games," Mr Morden said.

"This conviction includes a threat of violence but this was towards a passing motorist not a fan," he added.

"His behaviour was not specifically related to football," Mr Morden said.

Serious football related trouble occurred in the town later that night but Coplen was not involved, Mr Morden added.

"We are not satisfied a banning order would help to prevent football related violence."

Coplen left court with a grin after promising to pay his fine at £100 a week.

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