SPORT

Football Supporters Face Prosecution For 'Online Hooliganism'

23/08/2013 08:39 BST | Updated 23/08/2013 08:45 BST
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Police and stewards separate opposition supporters during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Manchester United at The Etihad stadium in Manchester, north-west England on December 9, 2012. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ?live? services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Football supporters who abuse players or fellow fans online have been warned they could face prosecution, as a new policy for tackling "online hooliganism" was unveiled.

Sports prosecutor Nick Hawkins said criminal abuse outside sports grounds would be targeted in the run-up to England's autumn World Cup qualifiers.

He said: "It's not just criminality in the stands that will be taken on. Our legal guidance on communications sent by social media clearly sets out how we will approach the abuse of players or fellow supporters online and I'm glad to say we have the full support of the Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association in this field."

New guidance issued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) earlier this year said communications which included threats of violence or damage to property, specifically targeted individuals, or that may breach a court order should be "prosecuted robustly" if there was enough evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

Others that were "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false" may not reach the criminal threshold.

The new guidance comes after a series of high-profile cases involving Twitter, including threats made against feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy, as well as several female journalists.

The policy, issued by the CPS and the Association of Chief Police Officers, also deals specifically with homophobic chanting.

It says: "As well as tackling violence, disorder and criminal damage we will deal robustly with offences of racist and homophobic and discriminatory chanting and abuse and other types of hate crime."

Alice Ashworth, from charity Stonewall, said gay fans were put off going to matches because of homophobic chanting.

She said: "We welcome the fact that the new policy on football-related offences addresses homophobic chanting for the first time."