England and Wales footballers have been assured that police will act swiftly to respond to online abuse directed at them during the World Cup in Qatar.
Detective Superintendent Jamie Henderson has visited the England squad to explain to them the tools available on social media platforms which can help filter out abuse.
But he added systems are in place with the respective football associations to ensure his officers can investigate, take statements from affected players and work to identify those responsible for any abuse judged to be a criminal offence.
Mr Henderson said he hopes there will not be a repeat of the aftermath of Euro 2020 final in which Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted following missed penalties in England’s defeat to Italy.
Mr Henderson, the UK Football Policing Unit’s investigations lead, told the PA news agency: “If there is anything that gets through, we’ll be there trying to find that person.
“If they’re in the UK, we’ll take the action and seek the prosecutions.
“If they turn out to be international, which the large majority in the Euros were international accounts, we’ll work with the NCA (National Crime Agency) to try and pass on that information to those countries to try to bring them to justice over there, providing they’re a country that has the right laws because some don’t have hate speech laws that we have.”
Mr Henderson added: “They just want to play football, they don’t want this added issue of people being vile racists with the abhorrent things that go on social media.
“They don’t want to detract away from them doing the business on the field, so we’re quick to respond to that.”
He went on: “The systems we’ve got set up with the FA and FA of Wales – we’ve got processes in place where we can identify the player that’s involved, we can get statements taken on their behalf so it doesn’t involve introducing the police officer to them, and we’ll then take that investigation away and hopefully there’ll be an outcome at the end of it.
“If it is a British-based offender we’ll seek to put them before the courts.”
Mr Henderson highlighted that stadium banning orders can now be imposed on those responsible for online abuse.
Mr Henderson’s UK-based team will also work to secure evidence if there are any incidents involving England and Wales fans in Qatar.
This may involve seeking to impose banning orders for bad behaviour or to investigate a serious offence committed against a British national during the tournament, with a file of evidence passed on to the Qatari authorities.