By Amir Hussain
A student in Singapore has been found guilty of sending online abuse including death threats to Brighton forward Neal Maupay.
The Premier League’s online abuse system helped track down the individual after Maupay received threatening and abusive messages via Instagram.
Derek Ng De Ren, a Singaporean junior college student, had been left upset over Arsenal's loss to Brighton in June last year, and threatened to kill French footballer Maupay and his family.
In one message that Derek Ng De Ren, sent to Maupay via the Instagram social media platform, he wrote, "I will kill you and your family." Maupay had scored the winning goal in injury time during the match, which saw Brighton beat Arsenal 2-1.
At Singapore's State Courts on Wednesday, the 19-year-old pleaded guilty to two out of four charges of using threatening words with intent to cause distress under the Protection from Harassment Act. His remaining charges were taken into consideration as part of his plea bargain.
Ng, who is now a full-time national serviceman, will be sentenced at a later date by a Community Court judge.
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Ng, an Arsenal fan, watched the Arsenal-Brighton match live on the night of 20 June last year at his grandmother's home.
Towards the end of the first half, Maupay challenged Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno for the ball inside the latter's own penalty area. Leno suffered a knee injury and received several minutes of treatment on the pitch before being taken off.
Later, Maupay struck the winner five minutes into stoppage time.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jeremy Bin told the court on Wednesday, "The accused, an Arsenal supporter, was angered by the victim’s goal and Arsenal FC’s loss. He also blamed the victim for the Arsenal goalkeeper’s injury."
Four days after the match, the Ng used an anonymous Instagram account which he had previously created to send three threatening messages to the victim via Instagram’s direct-messaging platform.
At 10.25pm on 24 June, Ng wrote, "You think you will get away for injuring Leno? No way in hell bruv... But don't worry you will be safe you won't be hurt. It's more fun watching you feel pain when your loved ones go through suffering.”
The next day, at about 4.50pm, the culprit wrote, "I will f*** you up".
And on 26 June, at about 1.15am, Ng wrote, "Your family will be attacked later in the day just watch”.
Maupay did not respond to the above messages, and reported the incident to EPL’s online abuse reporting system. Instagram subsequently blocked the accused’s anonymous account.
However, about a week later on 1 July, Ng created a new anonymous Instagram account with a similar account name. At about 9.30pm that day, he wrote to Maupay, “You think by reporting my account you’re safe? I will kill you and your family”.
"As a result of these messages, the victim felt distressed, believing the accused’s threats to be legitimate and credible. The victim and his family did not leave their home as far as possible, for fear of being attacked," the prosecutor told the court.
On 11 August 2020, an EPL representative in Singapore filed an online police report about the abusive messages.
In a media statement two days later, the league’s chief executive, Richard Masters said, "The abuse Neal received is wholly unacceptable. We responded immediately to seek justice on his behalf, which in this case meant identifying the perpetrator, tracking them to where they live, and then pursuing legal action accordingly.
“We take each report provided to us extremely seriously and we will use all possible resources in supporting our players and managers to investigate incidents, regardless of where the offender is located,” he added.
The Deputy Public Prosecutor told the court that the prosecution was reserving its position on sentencing, pending both reports on Ng's suitability for probation and reformative training.
While rehabilitation may be the predominant sentencing consideration in view of the culprit's age, deterrence is also a relevant consideration in sentencing, he said.
Ng will be back in court on 7 July.
The punishment for using threatening words to cause distress to another person under the Protection from Harassment Act is a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both.
Reformative training is a rehabilitative sentencing option for offenders under 21 who are found unsuitable for probation. Inmates under the programme undergo a strict regime and can be detained for up to three years. Unlike probation, reformative training results in a criminal record.
A statement from the Premier League said: “Derek Ng De Ren was convicted of crimes relating to harassment following an investigation and formal criminal complaint filed by the Premier League last August.
“The Premier League’s legal team undertook a detailed investigation to successfully identify and locate the offender. The league subsequently worked with Neal, the club and local authorities in Singapore to pursue legal action against the defendant, resulting in his prosecution and conviction.”
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