Banner flights have been suspended by an airport after a plane carrying the message “White Lives Matter Burnley” was flown over a Premier League football match.
Police are investigating after the plane, believed to have been operated by the firm Air Ads, flew above the Etihad Stadium in Manchester just after the game between Manchester City and Burnley kicked off on Monday night.
It happened moments after all players had taken the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Tuesday, Blackpool Airport, where Air Ads is based, announced that it was suspending banner-towing operations with immediate effect.
Stephen Smith, manager of the Blackpool Council-owned airport, said: “Blackpool Airport and Blackpool Council are outraged by this incident.
“We stand against racism of any kind and absolutely do not condone the activity. The message was offensive and the action reprehensible.
“The decision to fly the banner was taken entirely by the banner-flying company without the knowledge or approval of the airport or Blackpool Council.
“Due to the nature of the activity, banners are not checked before take-off and the content is at the operator’s discretion.”
He said the incident had been reported to the police and the Civil Aviation Authority.
“Blackpool Airport are investigating the banner operator in question and further action will be taken by the board tomorrow,” Smith said.
There was no response from calls made to Air Ads by the PA news agency.
A man at the hanger, an ex-pilot who did not want to be named and claimed to know the Air Ads pilot, said the firm had been run by Alan Elliott, who died a few weeks ago.
He claimed Elliott’s family had taken a back seat and a pilot was hired when they had orders to fly banners.
He said banners are made to order, with flight costs of around £700, and the pilot would be paid around £100 per flight.
He added: “We would assume whoever paid for the banner would get done for it.”
Chief Superintendent Russ Procter, of Lancashire Police, said: “We are making inquiries 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.”
Burnley FC issued a strong statement condemning the banner during half-time and said the perpetrators would be banned for life if identified, while captain Ben Mee spoke passionately about the incident after the match.
Burnley Tory MP Antony Higginbotham also condemned the message, saying on Twitter: “Last night’s awful stunt was done by a small minority to offend and cause hurt to so many in our community.
“Those responsible should be ashamed of their desire to divide. They don’t speak for our town and @BurnleyOfficial has my full support in taking action against them.”
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?