Bob Westerdale, former assistant editor of Sheffield daily The Star, faced a volley of online abuse from trolls on social media platform ‘X’ in the wake of Adam Johnson’s death.
The Nottingham Panthers player was killed on Saturday evening when a ‘freak collision’ with Sheffield Steelers opponent Matt Petgrave resulted in his neck being cut.
Medical teams raced to try and help the 29-year-old American but they were unable to save him.
Bob, pictured, has continued to cover the Steelers’ games for the Star since going freelance and was among the 8,000-strong crowd at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena as the shocking events unfolded.
Initially unaware of how serious the injury was, he posted two messages, including one image, on his personal ‘X’ page explaining there had been a delay due to an injury and that he hoped the player in question would be OK.
However, as soon as he made it from his seat in the stands down to the rink-side, he realised that things were not going to be OK, and he deleted both posts.
Despite removing the messages, Bob, who was reporting on the match for the Star at the time, faced a backlash which included calls for him to be banned from attending future ice hockey matches.
Among the ‘X’ messages directed at him were: “Bob Westerdale has absolutely scraped the bottom of the barrel tonight! Hoping upon hope that the player involved is ok.”
On Wednesday, Bob issued a statement on X defending his actions after deciding it was time to reply, before later deleting his @westerdale10 account.
He wrote: “I’d like to thank the Sheffield Steelers’ organisation for sending goodwill messages to me since last weekend’s horrifying events. I’m humbled to say these included a heart-warming message from Matt Petgrave.
“To clarify my position as both a journalist and a human being: I posted two tweets when Adam Johnson was injured, chronicling what everyone in the Arena, or watching on the web stream could see, adding that I hoped Adam would be OK.
“It was clearly a serious incident but in those initial moments, few people could have known exactly how catastrophic Adam’s injuries were. From my viewpoint, I certainly couldn’t.
“My tweets remained online until firm suggestions emerged that there could be, or had been, a fatality. I then took the tweets down. I am sorry that during that small window of time, decent people were upset by seeing this tragedy reported by a journalist online.
“For those posting evil accusations against Matt and others – I actually feel sorry for you too. As I take some time off, I’d ask people to lay off Matt. He was a victim of this accident, too. RIP Adam.”
Bob’s post was liked more than 150 times and shared by more than 100 as support came in from his journalism colleagues.
Polly Rippon, a media law and court reporting teacher at the University of Sheffield and a fellow freelance journalist wrote: “A journalist doing their job should not be subject to the horrific abuse that @westerdale10 has been.
“In the early stages of the terrible incident on Saturday it wasn’t possible to predict what was going to happen.
“Bob is an excellent journalist and has been for over four decades… Those posting hateful abuse need to take a good, long look at themselves.”
And Doncaster Free Press reporter Darren Burke backed those comments up by messaging: “Totally agree. An absolute tragedy but @westerdale10 was only doing his job. No one knew at that stage of the terrible outcome.”
A police investigation is currently ongoing into Adam Johnson’s death.