Chelsea fans found guilty in racist incident on Paris metro

Four Chelsea fans have been given suspended prison sentences by a French court after being found guilty of racially aggravated assault on the Paris Metro.

Only two of the quartet, James Fairbairn, 25, a civil engineer from Kent, and Joshua Parsons, 22, a trainee scaffolder from Dorking, Surrey, appeared before the court in the French capital on Tuesday.

They were given six and eight-month prison sentences respectively, while two other men, William Simpson, 37, from Ashford, and Richard Barklie, a former police officer in the Northern Ireland RUC, were each given 12-month suspended prison sentences in absentia.

All four were ordered to pay Sylla €10,000 (£8,504) in total.

In court, Fairburn and Parsons denied their actions had been of a racist nature.

Parsons told the court the atmosphere inside the crowded Metro train had been "hot and hostile." He said Sylla was "bigger" than him, and when the commuter had tried to board "I pushed back." He said the colour of Sylla's skin had not played a role.

"The only time I knew the skin colour was when I saw the video afterwards," he said.

On the video of the incident captured on a bystander's phone, fans could be heard chanting, "We're racist, we're racist and that's the way we like it." Parsons, however, claimed it had been sung in a different carriage to his, and that he "did not like that chant."

Fairburn denied making a hand gesture towards Sylla that had allegedly indicated he had been pushed off the train because of his race, and said: "I haven't done anything racist in any way."

Both Barklie and Simpson had also stated they had not acted in a racist manner in a questionnaire completed for French police.

Their claims were, however, swept aside as they were handed sentences in line with French law. The French state prosecutor said the trial was a "clear-cut example" of racism and a watershed in anti-racism cases.

Prior to the hearing, Sylla described how the assault had affected his life.

"I have taken anti-depressants to be able to sleep, to be able to come to the hearing. It's something that hurts," he told BFMTV. "I am on medication, appointments with a psychologist, it has turned my professional life upside down. I almost had a problem with my employer because I have had 30-40 sicknotes. All of that is because of them."

After the sentences had been handed down, Sylla, a father of four, told The Guardian: "I am glad to see justice done," adding, "I have been waiting for justice for two years."

After the incident, Fairburn was banned from Chelsea and England football matches for three years by UK magistrates with the other three men handed five-year bans. Chelsea also barred them from Stamford Bridge and buying tickets to games for life.

The club declined to comment but are understood to be satisfied with the verdict, The Guardian reported.

In July, the west London club had stated that the men's behaviour was "abhorrent, against all of the club's values and falls way below the standards the club expects of supporters attending our games."

"The club will continue to take action against supporters we feel behave in an antisocial manner and will cooperate with the relevant police authorities in any future investigations," the club said at the time.

"Chelsea FC is proud of its diversity, which runs throughout the club - from our owner to our multi-cultural playing squad and backroom team, the staff and our fans."