The man behind the White Lives Matter banner above the Etihad stadium has been sacked from his job at an engineering firm.
Jake Hepple, 24, was dismissed from his role as a welder at Lancashire-based Paradigm Precision this afternoon, with the company saying it ‘did not condone or tolerate racism in any form’.
And his girlfriend Megan Rambadt, 21, wept after being fired from a beauty salon in the town, it was reported today.
It came as Mr Hepple used an interview with MailOnline to announce he did not regret the stunt, and tried to excuse his use of the word P*** online by saying he sometimes gets ‘a bit coked up and uses offensive language’.
He said: ‘I’m not racist. I know people are trying to make out to be one but I’m not. I’ve got lots of Black and Asian friends and this banner was actually inspired by the Black Lives Movement.
‘We were not trying to offend the movement or black people. I believe that it’s also important to acknowledge that white lives matter too. That’s all we were trying to say.’
Mr Hepple, who has been given a lifetime ban from Burnley FC, had already been warned he was facing the sack, and said in response: ‘My employer, the club and so many other people have completely overreacted to what’s happened.’
His girlfriend Ms Rambadt, 21, also faced criticism for some of her racist social media posts and was suspended from her job as a beautician before being sacked yesterday, The Sun reported.
She had worked at Solace Foot Health & Reflexology, where Mr Hepple’s mother is listed as a director, The Sun said.
Meanwhile football fan Mr Hepple said police visited him at home on Tuesday night to tell him he would not face criminal charges. He said they also offered him protection should he or his family face threats in the future as a result of the banner.
He added: ‘The police told me that I haven’t committed any crime and haven’t done anything wrong.
‘In fact, they asked me if I was OK and wanted any protection, just in case people try to target me.
‘I don’t understand why I’m being treated like a criminal and believe that there has been a total over reaction to what happened. Everything has been blown out of proportion, it’s ridiculous.’
Mr Hepple claimed responsibility for the pre-match stunt on Monday and wrote on Facebook: ‘I’d like to take this time to apologise… to absolutely f***ing nobody!’
The Suicide Squad, a group of far-right Burnley fans, are believed to have crowdfunded for the flight and its message ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’.
Mr Hepple said 60 people contributed towards the banner and the hire of the plane, which cost £600 in total.
He said organisers had offers of money from ‘hundreds’ of people who were willing to support the ‘white lives matter cause.’
Among those also believed to be behind the banner is multiple convicted football hooligan Mark Hamer, 37.
Last night his father George, 66, said: ‘I’d heard that it was Mark who had organised it but it’s nothing to do with me.’
The plane flew over the stadium just after Manchester City and Burnley FC players had taken the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mr Hepple, who lives at home with his mother Jill and stepfather Dave, said he only became involved after the Reading attack on Saturday.
He continued: ‘The idea for it came from a football pal of mine. He wanted to make the point that not just Black Lives Matter but so do white ones and all other ones.
‘I supported the idea and believe that it needed to be said. I still do. Then the attack happened in Reading and I thought I have to get more involved with the banner.
‘I was angry that white people had been killed and nobody was making a fuss about that.’
He drove to Manchester on Monday with two friends and they positioned themselves on a bridge close to the Etihad at 7.30pm, waiting for the plane to fly past.
Mr Hepple said: ‘We agreed that me and a friend would live stream it on Facebook as it flew over the ground.
‘But as it came over my mate hit the wrong button and only my video was broadcast. And that’s why I’m getting all the stick.’
But he insisted: ‘I stand by this banner and what it says 100 per cent. I’m not sorry at all and I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done.’
Mr Hepple’s girlfriend Megan Rambadt, 21, also faced criticism for some of her racist social media posts and has been suspended from her job as a beautician.
He said: ‘She hasn’t stopped crying. Everybody is making her out to be a nasty, racist monster but she’s not like that at all.
‘She’s been suspended from her job and is really upset at what’s happened. She knew about the banner and supported it but like me, she wasn’t expecting this reaction.’
Lancashire Police yesterday confirmed Mr Hepple, who has posted in support of the EDL and has been pictured with its former leader, Tommy Robinson, had not been found to have committed a criminal offence.
Chief superintendent Russ Procter said: ‘Lancashire Constabulary has been in liaison with Greater Manchester Police, the Aviation Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service regards the ‘White Lives Matter’ banner that was flown over the Etihad Stadium.
‘After assessing all the information available surrounding this incident we have concluded that there are no criminal offences that have been disclosed at this time.
‘We will continue to work with our partners at the football club and within the local authority.’
Blackpool Airport, which was used by the plane, announced it had suspended all banner towing operations ‘with immediate effect’ and said it ‘did not condone’ the message.
Mr Hepple posted an image of the plane on Facebook on Monday 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.’
His 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 the Burnley players had heard ‘whispers’ something may have been planned.
The company that operated the plane, Air Ads, is based in Stockport and flies from Blackpool Airport.
But it emerged yesterday the airport had suspended flights operated by the company pending an investigation.
One of its former 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.
It appears that threshold was not crossed during the stunt – meaning the flight itself was not a crime.
A former pilot at Blackpool Airport claimed they knew the pilot at Air Ads and confirmed the firm used to be run by Alan Elliot, who died a few weeks ago.
The pilot, who did not wish to be named, told Sky News the banners are made to order and the flights cost around £700, with pilots taking around £100 per flight.
He added: ‘We would assume whoever paid for the banner would get done for it.’
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 contacted the company for comment.
Bob Stinger, one of the pilots associated with Air Ads, denied being at the controls on Monday night but declined to comment further.
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.’
Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:
‘I condemn the actions of those responsible for the banner flown over the Etihad Stadium.
‘We will always support the police and other relevant authorities to investigate any reports of inappropriate or illegal activities, providing whatever assistance we can.’
Blackpool Airport said: ‘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.
‘Following an emergency review this morning, 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.’
Ben Mee, who was born in 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.
Monday night’s aerial display reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ appeared to mock the movement, which is fighting against racism.
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.’