Smoke Bombs, Flares and Football Matches = Arrest, Prison and a Football Banning Order

Following on from the recent publicity about the use of flares and smoke bombs at football matches, and a lot of queries to my blog about the police powers in this area I have put together a question and answer section on the subject.

Be warned that even though fans may not think that having a smoke bomb or flare in their pocket is a serious offence, the police and football club take it very serious and even a fan with no previous convictions faces a real risk of going to prison…Spread the word to your friends and other fans…

Is it an offence to let off a flare or firework in a public place?

There are a few exceptions to this, but the simplest answer is YES, it is an offence and usually results in a fixed penalty notice and a fine. If that public place is a football stadium the stakes are raised considerably as it can then result in a 3 month prison sentence.

It is not an offence just to carry a smoke bomb or flare outside the stadium, is it?

YES – just carrying a smoke bomb, flare or firework in the area of the football stadium can be an offence if the police can show that you were attempting to enter the ground with it on you.  I have seen cases where the police have arrested a fan with a flare as they came out of the train station closest to the ground.  The police have argued that as the fan had a ticket for the game, was wearing colors and was with other fans, and was walking in the direction of the ground, that this showed that the fan would have attempted to enter the ground had they not been stopped by the police.  That’s not to say that in some cases, the police interpretation of ‘attempting to enter’ shouldn’t be challenged in court, as there must be legal argument that a fan who is stopped at London Bridge Station about to get on a train to a football gound in South London is not ‘attempting to enter’, but the closer the fan is to the ground, the more likely the police will be able to argue that the fan was ‘attempting to enter’.

I won’t be committing an offence if I have a smoke bomb in my pocket in the ground but don’t let it off, will I?

YES – the law is very clear on this point, you don’t have to let it off, just having it on you in the ground is enough for you to be charged with an offence.

I won’t go to prison if I am found with a flare on me, but I don’t let it off, will I?

YES – you may be sent to prison.  Recent cases have shown that the courts do not take pity on those found in possession of flares, smoke bombs or fireworks. In fact they are giving severe punishments and fans with no previous convictions are being given 3 months in prison, and on appeal the courts are upholding the 3 months prison sentence. The excuses of “I was just carrying it for a mate” or ‘A mate just gave it to me as we left the ground and I didn’t know what it was” are not being given much credit by the courts.  If it is in the fan’s pocket, the fan is guilty and probably will go to prison.

Do the police have the power to stop and search me on the way to the ground to see if I have a smoke bomb, flare of firework on me?

YES – they have powers to stop and search you, and arrest you if they find any of these items on you.

But they can’t arrest me after the game when I am walking away from the ground with the flare in my pocket can they?

YES – if they can show that you were in the ground and that you are likely to have had the flare, smoke bomb or firework in your pocket while in the ground, they can arrest you, and you will probably be charged.

If I am convicted of having a smoke bomb, flare or firework will I also get a Football Banning Order?

YES – the police will probably apply for an Football Banning Order, and due to the nature of the offence, it will be highly likely that the court will consider that the offence was football related.  If the court does decide to issue a football banning order, it will likely be for between 3 and 6 years (in addition to any other sentence such as prison).

The police can’t apply for a Football Banning Order on me unless they charge me, can they?

YES –  if the police can show that they suspect you of having involvement with flares, smoke bombs or fireworks in the ground or outside the ground just before or after the match, they will probably apply for a civil football banning order which can be imposed even if you are not convicted of any offences.

What is a firework?

Even a sparkler falls within the definition of firework, as do bangers and anything else that has a firework logo on it.

What is a smoke bomb?

Anything which emits smoke or visible gas, even something which is home made.

How will the police know that I have the flare or smoke bomb on me?

In addition to the general powers of stop and search, the police will be checking the fan forums and any known fan groups which discuss the use of flares, smoke bombs or fireworks will be targeted by the police, and will likely be stopped and searched.  In addition, the stewards in the ground have the powers to search and if they find a flare, smoke bomb or firework, they will tell the police, and due to the information sharing agreements between police forces and clubs, the police will automatically tell the club if a fan is arrested for possession or use of pyro. I have dealt with cases where football clubs have banned for life the pyro user and their friends, even though there was no evidence that the friends even knew about the pyro before it was used.

In general, if there is one thing that the police and courts are very hot on at the moment it is flares and smoke bombs.  Carry one and you are very likely going to face time in a police cell…and worse…time in a prison cell! Add to this the fact that Clubs are facing fines from the FA and UEFA when pyro is used in their stadium, Clubs are also issuing very long bans for fans found in possession of any pyro.

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About gurdena

Social Justice Lawyer, interested in all things contentious. Specialising in criminal law, and anything criminal justice related, also employment law. Door tenant at 1 Grays Inn Square chambers. Find out more at www.alisongurden.com

6 responses to “Smoke Bombs, Flares and Football Matches = Arrest, Prison and a Football Banning Order”

  1. C_U says :

    What a strange country we live in, where people with previous convictions routinely avoid jail for drug dealing, burglary, paedophilia, sexual assault, mugging and 80% of people stopped and searched with a knife avoid prison – but some football fans with devices that let off a bit of coloured smoke get imprisoned for first offences. It is utterly depressing. It’s nothing to do with genuine health and safety concerns and everything to do with agendas of control. Sickening.

  2. TFD says :

    Symptomatic of the desperate cleansing, sanitisation and gentrification process of the modern game….

    • gurdena says :

      I think you are right, in my view the clubs are social cleansing, getting rid of the dedicated fans in favour of corporations that will pay a large amount of money for boxes and seats and use the clubs hospitality. A season ticket holder who buys a pie and a coke at half time is not worth a jot to a club charging £40 per head for a plate of sausage rolls and lasagna in the corporate boxes, and who will also pay £5 a pint!

  3. Larry Catt says :

    Flares and smoke bombs have never been part of the English football cultural landscape. I have no time for them at all. Football Supporters Federation should concentrate on more pressing issues of cost (which is the main driver in keeping the traditional fan out of the grounds) and bringing back standing. No sympathy for anyone caught with a pyro or smoke bomb.

  4. IsoGala says :

    What will happen if you light one in a street not even close to any football grounds or airports? (red flare)

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