Police have been accused of being too ‘soft’ in their response to homophobic tweets sent to Brighton and Hove Albion football fans.
The ‘vicious’ anti-gay messages were sent by three fans of London soccer club Crystal Palace earlier this month.
But instead of arresting the 15 and 16 year olds Sussex police visited the boys’ parents to lecture them.
‘We are supposed to be zero tolerance in this city but the police are clearly taking a softly-softly approach,’ Chris Cooke, chairman of the UK city’s LGBT Community Safety Forum, told The Argus.
‘If these had been racist messages then there would have been arrests rather than a slap on the wrist.
‘We have got to be tough and we have got to send a clear message that homophobic behavior is clearly unacceptable.’
However, writing on his blog, investigating officer PC Darren Balkham said after being alerted to ‘some quite vicious homophobic tweeting’ he decided not to arrest the youngsters because he didn’t believe it would achieve anything.
‘It would leave them with a possible criminal record and maybe ruin their lives, all for the sake of complete ignorance and stupidity from behind a keyboard,’ he wrote.
He told Gay Star News that he believed ‘education is the key’.
‘What annoys me is the ignorance and stupidity regarding the LGBT community,’ he said.
‘I want to look at how we can educate people and that what they say, whether it be Twitter or Facebook, is wrong. People have feelings.’
He added: ‘Where we find areas where we can educate people, I want to look at that avenue. I’m not saying that every time it happens that would be the right course of action, because it wouldn’t.’
PC Balkham denies the police treat homophobia any differently from racism, saying they are both hate crimes. He says that the police have helped bring in ground regulations at Brighton and Hove Albion FC’s stadium to ensure anti-gay abuse is dealt with.