Burnley fan sacked from job for his part in 'White Lives Matter' banner

24 June 2020, 17:57

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Burnley fan who claimed responsibility for the 'White Lives Matter' banner flown over the Etihad Stadium on Monday has been fired from his job.

Jake Hepple, 24, has been stood down from engineering company Paradigm Precision after "breaking the company's various policies and procedures."

The firm, who make products for gas turbine engines, said they "do not condone or tolerate racism in any form" while Burnley swiftly criticised the stunt, branding it "offensive" and saying it "in no way" represents the club's views.

Mr Hepple claimed responsibility for the stunt, writing on Facebook: "I'd like to take this time to apologise .. to absolutely f***ing nobody!"

A spokesperson from Paradigm Precision said on Wednesday: "We have concluded our investigation into the conduct of one of our employees in relation to an incident at the Burnley v Manchester City match, as well as other related manners.

"We have concluded that there has been a break of the company's various policies and procedures. The individual no longer works for the company.

"Paradigm Precision does not condone or tolerate racism in any form and is fully committed to diversity and inclusion."

The White Lives Matter banner was flown over Manchester City's Etihad Stadium on Monday
The White Lives Matter banner was flown over Manchester City's Etihad Stadium on Monday. Picture: PA

The message stood in stark and unwelcome contrast to the shows of unity and support that have taken place since the Premier League resumed, with all players wearing 'Black Lives Matter' on their shirts and taking a knee before kick-off.

Police investigating the incident said on Tuesday that "no criminal offences have been disclosed at this time."

Burnley Football Club has said it intends to issue lifetime bans to those responsible for the message.

The 24-year-old welder, who has previously been pictured with his arm around English Defence League founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, told MailOnline he is "not racist".

"I know people are trying to make me out to be one but I'm not. I've got lots of black and Asian friends and this banner was actually inspired by the Black Lives Movement.

"We were not trying to offend the movement or black people.

"I believe that it's also important to acknowledge that white lives matter too. That's all we were trying to say."

Mr Hepple's dismissal comes after his girlfriend Megan Rambadt was also reportedly dismissed by her employer Solace Foot Health and Reflexology over "abhorrently racist" posts.

A statement from the firm read: "It was brought to our attention that one of our employees has been publicly posting and tweeting comments of an abhorrently racist nature.

"It came as quite a shock to us as the lady in question has never shown, insinuated or acted in any way that would suggest she could have such feelings and beliefs.

"We would like to thank the person who brought these comments to our attention and assure you that we will deal with this situation internally."

It added: "Earlier we posted a statement saying we were willing to try and help Megan by paying for Intensive Racial Sensitivity training despite knowing that Solace's reputation would come into question.

"After several conversations with Megan tonight however we have all decided that what is best for Megan and best for Solace is to end her employment with immediate effect."

Burnley captain Ben Mee spoke angrily about the banner, insisting the players on the field were sickened by what they saw above their heads.

"We as a group of players condemn it, we're ashamed, we're embarrassed," he said.

"It completely misses the point of what we're trying to achieve as a football community.

"It's a minority of our supporters, I know I speak for a massive part of our support who distance ourselves from anything like that. It definitely had a had massive impact on us to see that in the sky.

"We were embarrassed, disappointed, upset. We are embarrassed that our name was in it. That they tried to attach it to our club. It doesn't belong anywhere near our club. Fans like that don't deserve to be around football."

Clarets manager Sean Dyche, who did not see the plane at the time, was also disappointed about the incident.

Dyche said: "As a club we can only apologise. It is unacceptable."

Fare, the European equality body which works with both UEFA and FIFA, condemned the stunt as part of a wider "racist backlash" centred around "a denial of equal rights."

"The racist backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement across Europe is a trend we have seen and documented," Fare's executive director Piara Powar said.

"Set against the BLM message of equal rights 'White Lives Matter' can only be motivated by racism and a denial of equal rights. It shows exactly why the fight for equality is so important and why the majority of people have supported it.

"At this stage we don't know who is behind this, but it's clear they don't see the relevance of the message to football or the impact that racism has on so many peoples lives.

"So be it. The movement, the issues that are being discussed and the change that will arise is unstoppable. History will judge that this was a moment that led to change."

Kick It Out, English football's anti-racism charity, said the sentiments of the banner represented a grave misunderstanding of the BLM initiative.

"The point of Black Lives Matter is not to diminish the importance of other people's lives," said the organisation's chair Sanjay Bhandari.

"It is to highlight that black people are being denied certain human rights simply by virtue of the colour of their skin. It is about equality. We shall continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for greater equality for all in football."