A leading Tory donor was slammed by disability groups after saying a deaf footballer stops grunting during a game.
Millionaire taxi tycoon John Griffin, 70, said former GB soccer star Daniel Ailey ”should discontinue making noises” when he plays.
Daniel, a talented striker for Potters Bar Town FC, has speech difficulties and makes a groaning noise when he wants the ball.
He was recently mimicked and jeered by pitch-side yobs for making the sound during a clash with rivals Grays Athletic.
Police were called to the game after the abuse started shortly after Daniel came on as a substitute.
Following the match the taunting was referred to the FA for further investigation.
But Mr Griffin then appeared to condone the fans’ cruelty in a letter sent to a local newspaper – likening it to the “unacceptable” grunting in womens’ tennis.
Griffin, the chairman of Addison Lee, Britain’s biggest minicab firm, said police should take action against the grunting footballer.
The email, reportedly sent by Griffin from his personal email address said: “Do I read it correctly that a deaf footballer makes a grunting sound to attract team mates [sic] attention.
“I long ago gave up watching women’s tennis due to the loud and [un]acceptable level of grunting.
“I note that the police were called and I hope they demanded that the footballer should discontinue making noises that could be misinterpreted by members of the crowd.
“Yours in amazement John Griffin.”
Deaf charities instantly slammed the email from Mr Griffin, who appeared on Channel Four show Secret Millionaire.
Officials at Action on Hearing Loss, formerly the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, described the millionaire’s comments as an “own goal”.
Rebecca Griffin, the charity’s head of PR and campaigns, said: “We are very disappointed by the reported lack of deaf awareness shown by a section of the supporters and hope, in future, they show more respect to a talented footballer who is trying to overcome communication barriers during matches.
“We are also extremely concerned by the comments made by Mr Griffin and expect they will be seen as a spectacular own goal by many of his company’s customers who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
Daniel was subjected to the sickening taunts when he came on as a 66th minute sub during the home game on Tuesday 23 October, which Grays Athletic won 0 – 2.
Police were called but left shortly afterwards when it appeared that the abuse had stopped.
But Potters Bar Town manager Adam Lee described the unacceptable behaviour as “a sad state of affairs”, in light of the incredible success of the 2012 Paralympics.
Mr Lee said: “There was an incident involving a group of Grays supporters who were taking the Mickey out of Daniel, which I think was a bit unsavoury. In this day and age it’s disappointing.”
He added: “I didn’t think it was racial because there are black players from both sides.”
Me Lee explained that when Daniel wants the ball he makes a ”groaning, grunting noise” which he said was copied by opposition fans.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire Constabulary said: “We can confirm that police were called to Potters Bar Football Club, The Walk, Potters Bar shortly after 9.30pm on Tuesday (October 23) following reports of a disturbance.”
He added: “Upon police arrival the disturbance had stopped. The disturbance has been referred to the FA.”
John Griffin said: “I regret any offence caused by my comments. This was certainly not my intention and I apologise.”
Meanwhile a spokeswoman for Addison Lee said: “Our Chairman has apologised for the comments made and for any offence that has been caused.
“Addison Lee is an equal opportunities employer and we are strongly committed to employing disabled people as is demonstrated through our membership of the ‘Two Ticks’ scheme.”
Meanwhile Peter Waller, 61, chairman of Potter’s Bar Town FC, described the abuse from the away fans as “unacceptable”.
He said: “We are not happy at all with the behaviour on that day. The incident has gone to the FA and we hope they will deal with it seriously.
This is an issue that needs to be discussed – it is unacceptable to abuse any players.”
He added: “It does not matter what noises Daniel makes on the pitch, the only important thing is that he is a good footballer.”
Mr Griffin sparked a storm earlier this year by ordering his drivers to flout a bus lane ban in London and slamming cyclists – claiming they were responsible for accidents.
Mr Griffin said that if Londoners want to cycle in the capital they should “get trained and pay up.”
He also accused cyclists of being irresponsible as they “leap onto a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat”.
Mr Griffin’s company Addison Lee has given the Conservatives more than £250,000 in donations in the past.
The decision not to renew the lucrative deal comes after Cabinet minister Philip Hammond was slammed for holding talks about Mr Griffin’s firm taking on even more Government work.
There were calls earlier this year for Addison Lee contracts with the Government to be cancelled after it emerged he gave the party two £50,000 donations in a day.
A decision was later taken not to renew the contracts.