Police today launched an investigation into a Burnley football fan who chartered a plane and flew a White Lives Matter banner above the Etihad stadium as he faced being charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence.
Jake Hepple, who has posted in support of the EDL and been pictured with its former leader, Tommy Robinson, claimed responsibility for last night’s stunt and wrote on Facebook: ‘I’d like to take this time to apologise… to absolutely f***ing nobody!’
Lancashire Police today confirmed it was investigating Mr Hepple, from Colne, as his employer, an engineering company in Burnley called Paradigm Precision, said they were investigating his conduct and would announce any action soon.
The Suicide Squad, a group of far-right Burnley fans, are believed to have crowdfunded the flight, which flew over the stadium just after players had taken the knee for Black Lives Matter.
Sources close to the police investigation told The Telegraph that those involved could be quizzed over a racially-aggravated public order offence related to the message, rather than the flight itself.
A plane carrying a banner reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ was flown over the Etihad stadium ahead of the team’s match with Manchester yesterday evening
Jake Hepple (pictured left with English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson) has claimed responsibility for the stunt
Jake Hepple posted an image of the plane on Facebook yesterday and wrote: ‘I’d like to take this time to apologise… to absolutely f***ing nobody!
‘It’s now apparently racist to say White Lives Matter, the day after three white people got murdered in a park in Reading, but all we’ve seen on the TV is Black Lives Matter after George Floyd got murdered. What a mad world we live in.’
Other members of the Suicide Squad – a group of hooligan Burnley fans – are thought to have spent the past week crowdfunding for the banner and flyover.
Chequered history of air banner firm who provided plane for ‘White Lives Matter’ stunt
The Cessna C-182 was chartered from Air Ads Ltd, which is based at Blackpool Airport. The small aircraft was spotted on flight tracking service FlightRadar24 leaving the seaside resort and flying over the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, shortly after players and support staff had held a minute’s silence for Covid-19 victims and went down on one knee for Black Lives Matter.
Alan Elliott is listed as a director of Air Ads Ltd, which provided the plane for last night’s stunt
One pilot from Air Ads Ltd, Alan Elliott, from Bolton, was prosecuted in 2017 having flown a banner over Goodison Park, Everton.
The pilot was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £8,500 prosecution costs at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court after he flew within 400 feet of the stadium – endangering the public and his aircraft.
Mr Elliot had been paid £800 to fly the banner. Though he should not have been below 1,000ft in a congested area such as a city centre or within a radius of 600 yards of the highest obstacle.
The rules are designed to allow a small aircraft the chance to glide to safety if its engine fails.
Mr Elliott died on May 3, according to his family.
In July 2010 the company wrote off an aircraft which crashed into a hangar while refuelling in Compton Abbas Airfield, Dorset.
According to an air accident report by the Civil Aviation Authority, when the aircraft restarted, it lurched forward and crashed into the hangar before the pilot was able to react.
Last night’s stunt led to outrage and has been widely condemned, with Burnley captain Ben Mee saying he was ‘shamed and embarrassed’.
Speaking after the match, which his side lost 5-0, he noted that the Burnley players had heard ‘whispers’ that something may have been planned.
The company that operated the plane, Air Ads, is based in Stockport and flies from Blackpool Airport.
One of its directors, Alan Elliott, was fined £2,000 in 2017 for flying 400ft from Goodison Park after being paid by an Everton fan to display a sign emblazoned with ‘Thank you Mr Kenwright’ in support of the club chairman.
Under the Air Navigation Order 2009, aircraft are not allowed to fly over a congested area at a height lower than 1,000ft within a 600-yard radius of the highest obstacle.
MailOnline has contacted the Civil Aviation Authority to ask if the same offence was committed last night.
Air Ads was involved in a crash on July 18, 2010, when the pilot wrote off a plane by mistakenly revving up the engine while taxiing on the runway and slammed into a hangar. The pilot, who was not named in an incident report, escaped uninjured.
Air Ads Ltd has been involved in several other high-profile publicity stunts, including flying a banner over Burnley’s Turf Moor stadium reading ‘Go Clarets’ for a local newspaper and advertising a marriage proposal.
Alan Elliott, who was involved in the Everton incident, died on May 3 this year, according to his family. His son, Alan Mark Elliott, is still listed as a director. MailOnline has contacted the company for comment.
Burnley captain Ben Mee said he was ‘shamed and embarrassed’ of the stunt, and revealed that his players had heard ‘whispers’ that something may have been planned.
‘I am ashamed and embarrassed that a small number of our fans have decided to fly that around the stadium,’ he said. ‘It is not what we are about.
‘They have missed what we are trying to achieve. These people need to come into the 21st century and educate themselves. They don’t represent what we are about, the club is about, the players are about and the majority of fans are about.
‘I’ve heard it is a small number that have arranged this and I hope it doesn’t happen again. I don’t want to associate it with my club. I don’t want to see this in the game.
‘It is not right. We totally condemn it. These people can learn and be taught what Black Lives Matter is trying to achieve.’
Mr Hepple’s employer, Paradigm Precision in Burnley, said today: ‘We are aware of the incident that took place and are currently investigating the conduct of our employee. Once we have completed our enquiries, we will release a full statement.’
Chief Supt Russ Procter, from Lancashire Police, said: ‘We are making enquiries to establish the full circumstances surrounding this incident and we will then be in a position to make an assessment as to whether any criminal offences have taken place.
‘We recognise that this banner will have caused offence to many people in Lancashire and beyond and we continue to liaise closely with our partners at both the club and in the local authority.’
Jake Hepple (pictured) said in a statement to Facebook that he did not want to apologise for what he had done
The private plane crossed the sky above the stadium just moments after both Burnley and Manchester players took a knee to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement
Last night’s aerial display reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ appeared to mock the movement, which is fighting against racism
In 2010, Hepple posted this flag showing support for the far-right English Defence League
In 2013, the EDL supporter was pictured on Facebook holding a finger to his lip to mimic a moustache
Ben Mee, who was born is Sale, said Burnley tried to halt the plans once they became aware of what was to follow.
‘As we were coming out we heard some whispers that it was going to happen,’ he added. ‘The club tried to stop it. I’ve heard it is a small number that have arranged this and I hope it doesn’t happen again.’
Manager Sean Dyche echoed his captain’s words, as did several other football figures, including BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker.
In addition to taking a knee before games, all Premier League players have worn the words Black Lives Matter on the back on their shirts and a logo on the sleeve to show support for the movement.
BLM protests erupted worldwide following the death of George Floyd, 46, who died after police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on his neck for nine minutes in Minneapolis in the US on May 25.
Last night’s aerial display reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ appeared to mock the movement, which is fighting against racism.
Jake Hepple, a Burnley local, has claimed responsibility for the stunt sharing a video of the plane to his Facebook along with a refusal to apologise
Mr Hepple shared photos and a video to Facebook of the plane carrying the message ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’
Alan Elliott – pictured left outside Liverpool Magistrates’ Court – is listed as a director of Air Ads Ltd, which provided the plane for last night’s stunt. He was prosecuted pin 2017 for flying a plane too low over Goodison Park
Burnley FC Police – a division of Lancashire Police that deals with the football club – said they were aware who was involved in the incident, as were Burnley FC
A Burnley spokesman said: ‘Burnley Football Club strongly condemns the actions of those responsible for the aircraft and offensive banner that flew over The Etihad Stadium on Monday evening.
‘We wish to make it clear that those responsible are not welcome at Turf Moor. This, in no way, represents what Burnley Football Club stands for and we will work fully with the authorities to identify those responsible and issue lifetime bans.
‘The club has a proud record of working with all genders, religions and faiths through its award-winning Community scheme, and stands against racism of any kind.
‘We are fully behind the Premier League’s Black Lives Matter initiative and, in line with all other Premier League games undertaken since Project Restart, our players and football staff willingly took the knee at kick-off at Manchester City.
‘We apologise unreservedly to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter.’
Burnley manager Sean Dyche and staff take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign before the match between Manchester City and Burnley FC at Etihad Stadium yesterday
Referee Andre Marriner (right) and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (left) kneels in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign before last night’s match
Former Burnley captain Frank Sinclair said he was ‘disappointed’ by the provocative message
Shocked viewers took to social media to express their anger at the stunt.
MailOnline columnist Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘A plane flew over the Etihad stadium tonight with this banner saying ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’. So depressing.’
Pundit and former England footballer Lineker added: ‘I’m sure @BurnleyOfficial will condemn this s***housery.’
Rachel Riley commented: ‘Anyone fancy a crowdfunder to get these idiots a tattoo to mark their brave and clever stunt. I reckon ‘Man City 5 – Burnley 0′ would be perfect.’
Comedian Omid Djalli said: ‘Brilliant Ben Mee being on it ASAP. The Black Lives Matter movement is everyone against racism and discrimination towards all minorities.
‘Burnley FC have apologised for an idiotic minority who want a race war. Well done the Premier League for keeping on highlighting injustice.
‘If someone is chartering a plane to fly a banner like that over a football match, it proves definitively that there are racists out there literally with more money than sense.’
In response to the distasteful stunt, other Burnley fans have started a Go Fund Me page raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which was set up in memory of the black teenager after he was killed in a racist attack in 1993.
Shocked viewers took to social media to express their anger at the stunt, including the comedian Omid Djalili
Sports commentator Sam Lee tweeted: ‘There’s a plane flying over the Etihad that says ‘White Lives Matter – Burnley’. F***ing hell, what an absolute embarrassment. Absolute disgrace.’
Players have been taking to their knees throughout the Premier League in a sign of support in the fight against inequality and injustice which was adopted by sports stars in 2016 after NFL player Colin Kaepernick knelt during the US national anthem.
Last night’s stunt comes after a plane towing a confederate flag flew over a NASCAR track and a noose was found in the garage of black driver Bubba Wallace at a race in Alabama on Sunday.
The shocking discovery came less than two weeks after he successfully pushed the auto racing series to ban the Confederate flag at its tracks and facilities.
Nascar announced the discovery on Sunday and said it would do everything possible to find who was responsible and ‘eliminate them from the sport.’
Former Premier League striker Darren Bent tweeted in response to the plane’s message
Sam Lee tweeted: ‘There’s a plane flying over the Etihad that says ‘White lives matter – Burnley’. F****** hell, what an absolute embarrassment. Absolute disgrace’