Police are looking into the circumstances in which a banner reading “White Lives Matter Burnley” was towed by an aircraft at a game between Manchester City and Burnley FC.
The stunt, which unfolded above the Etihad Stadium moments after players and staff had taken a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Monday evening, has been blamed on individuals from a football hooligan firm connected with Burnley.
They included a supporter associated with former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson. The supporter claimed responsibility online before deleting his social media presence.
Another figure, who has convictions for football-related violence, was linked to a WhatsApp group where money was said to have been sought to pay for the plane.
The company which provided the plane is Air Ads, an aerial advertising and banner towing company based in the north of England which uses a Cessna. The aircraft circled over Manchester City’s ground at about 8pm before landing back at Blackpool airport at 8.30pm, according to flight tracking technology.
It then took off again at 8.45am on Tuesday morning and was last detected near Newport in South Wales.
Blackpool airport said it would stop operating banner flights following an emergency review.
Stephen Smith, manager of Blackpool 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.”
Smith said banners are not checked before take-off and that the content is at the operator’s discretion.
He added: “Blackpool airport will suspend all banner-towing operations at the airport with immediate effect and we would suggest that other airports should also consider this approach in light of what has happened at Blackpool.”