Archive | March 2013

Can the Police retention of information on football fans breach a fan’s right to privacy?

Are you a football fan?

Have you been

  • given a section 27 dispersal notice?
  • filmed coming out of the train station?
  • stop searched on your way to a football match?

If yes,  your personal data is possibly being held by the Police.

What is meant by Personal Data?

Personal data can be anything which identifies you, so a record of your name, address, description, photographs or video footage all amount to personal data.

How is it held?

Most police force Football Policing Units keep an intelligence database on fans who are considered to be ‘risk fans’.  In other words, fans who are suspected of causing disorder.  In addition there is a nationwide database which contains information on public order and which contains details of some football fans activities, and the Police National Computer which contains information on all arrests, cautions, PNDs, convictions.  This data can be held for years, particularly as a football banning order can contain information going back up to 10 years.

S0 what does this mean for football fans?

If you have been involved in violence or disorder, or been cautioned or convicted of an offence then your data will definitely be held on the PNC and you cannot challenge this as you fall in to the same category as every other person who has been cautioned or convicted of an offence.  The PNC is in the process of being updated so that it can hold much more information, and I am sure that everyone reading this will accept that the Police should have a tool to assist in their investigations, and to prevent crime.

However, it is the retention of a football fan’s data merely due to the fact that they are a football fan which can be argued as being disproportionate.  If you are a fan who regularly attends football matches, have never been cautioned or convicted of an offence and have never been involved in disorder, is it fair that your data should be held by the Police?  For instance, some police forces have a practice of stopping fans as they come out of a convenient store, and asking them to stand against the wall so that they can be video’d to record what they are wearing.  Most are asked their names and addresses, and some are asked to roll up their sleeves to show any tattoos they may have.  The question then has to be, why is this data being taken in the first place as the fan has done nothing more than walk out of a shop with a can of soda in their hand, and secondly what happens to this recording – is it destroyed or retained?

There are many examples of retention of data by the Police on football fans, and too many to mention here, but I have heard  of cases where a fan has been ejected from a football ground by a steward, without police involvement, only to find they are then taken into a room in the football ground where the police have taken their details and fingerprints, but they have not been arrested or charged with any offence.  Fans given a section 27 dispersal notices as they exit a pub on their way to the ground, who claim they have done nothing wrong, and who have a season ticket in their hand, who then find that the Football Club have cancelled their season ticket, as the Police have informed the Club about the Section 27 dispersal notice.

While there are information sharing agreements between football clubs and police forces, and to a certain extent there is a need for such agreements, many fans do not know how much sharing of their information is actually going on. In many cases, a fan has no idea until they are served with an application for a football banning order and they note that incidents from five or six years ago are mentioned in the application.

Obtaining and retaining personal data in some cases can breach a persons right to privacy

Last week the Court of Appeal in the case of Catt ruled that the surveillance and retention of details of a persons attendance at protests was a breach of his right to privacy.  While the Court of Appeal did not say that every act of surveillance and data retention by the police was unlawful (as clearly the police have to be able to carry out surveillance  to prevent crime, including acts of terrorism and serious disorder, and they must keep that information so that they have evidence to prove the case in court), the Court decided that the surveillance of a protester’s activities and the retention of this information must be proportionate to the aim.  In other words, keeping photos and video of protesters who regularly attend protests and are violent is proportionate to the need to protect the public, but keeping the same on a peaceful protester who has never shown and signs of violence or committing any kind of crime is a breach of that protester’s right to privacy.

What can a fan do if they think their right to privacy is being breached?

It is not an easy task for a fan to find out what data is held on them, and where.  Due to the fact that fans travel around the country to watch their team play, there may be data held on a fan by more then one police force.  In addition the data may be held on a the different databases as mentioned above.  The best way to start is to make a Data Protection Act request (also known as a subject access request) to the police force where the home team’s football intelligence unit is held as this is most likely where a fan’s data will be held.  A freedom of information request can be made to the police force to ask how they share football fan information may assist in identifying other databases where a fan’s information may be held.  This Merseyside Police  Freedom of Information request gives an indication of the types of question that should be raised in a freedom of information request –  Merseyside Police Freedom Of Information Information on fans data held and football banning orders

What is the difference between a Data Protection Act request and a Freedom of Information request?

In basic terms, if a fan wants to find out what data is held on them personally this will be a Data Protection Act request (subject access request).  A form for this can be found on the police forces websites. This type of request can also be made to  individual football clubs.  If a fan wants to find out general information about where football fan data is held, or who the police force shares the information with, this is a Freedom of Information request.

What can a fan do if they find that private information is being held about them by the Police or the Football Club?

A complaint should firstly be made to whoever is holding the data, asking them to remove it from their systems and confirm it has been destroyed.  If this is not successful, then in the case of data held by the police, a complaint can be made to either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or the Office of the Information Commissioner.  In cases of data being held by the football club, a complaint should be made to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Above all it must be remembered that the Police have a job to do, and that they are justified in holding information on some fans, and likewise the Football Club may be able to justify holding certain information on football fans, such as the seat numbers for season ticket holders, but a fan also has a right to privacy and to ensure that information on them is not being held or shared for no reason.  The fact a person choses to spend their free time at football matches does not mean they have given up their right to privacy.

Hold the Gate 2……Firearms, Drive By Shootings and Red Mist can end in a Death Row cell

For anyone who visits Florida Jails and prisons that is a familiar phrase.  It essentially means that the doors and gates inside the jail are locked shut and there is no escape.

“Hold the Gate’…..I enter the pre-trial detention center in Miami just as a troop of defendants, some dressed in their own clothes, most wearing orange trousers and smocks, all shacked together by the hands, cross in front of me on their way to court.  The gate behind me, which is my exit to the outside World is locked shut.

‘Morning Miss’ say some of the troop as they shuffle past, others smile or nod their head.  Due to the number of inmates being taken to court, there is a backlog and the hall begins to fill up with inmates.  The hall echoes even when empty, but with all these inmates and corrections officers in one space, it is deafening.

A guy sits down next to me, a plain clothed cop.  ‘Which floor you going to? I ask him.

“Gladiator” he replies.  The 5th floor is known as the Gladiator floor as it is the roughest floor of inmates.  My defendant I want to see that day is on the 5th floor.

“Damn…are you interviewing or taking someone away?” I ask, ever hopeful that he is not going to queue jump me.  There is only one interview room on the 5th floor and cops usually get priority.

“Picking someone up for the State’s Attorney’s Office”.  My interest is now piqued, if he is taking someone to the SAO, they are probably doing a deal, i.e. ‘snitching’, and I need to make sure it is not my defendant who is being interviewed without a lawyer being present.  To be fair, none of my defendants consider speaking to the cops without a lawyer when they know I am around.  I have threatened all of them that the work I will do on them is ten times worse than anything the cops can throw at them if they speak without a lawyer…they now seem to know the score.

The noise is still deafening, as more inmates shuffle into the room, and then the door to the courthouse is released, the inmates file out and the room is suddenly quiet again, and the gate is opened for more lawyers, and cops to enter.  I sit and chat to the cop about a recent shooting spree in North Miami and he tells me that it is a gang feud, both gangs are trying to assert their authority and take over the patch, and in the meantime innocent people end up the victims of drive past shootings.  I tell him about a woman I met a couple of weeks ago whose daughter was killed while she was asleep in her bedroom, the bullets from a drive past shooting went straight through the outside wall and into her bedroom.  It turned out that the shooters had targeted the wrong house as they had mixed up the house numbers.  He tells me that he now has at least one automatic assault rifle in in the trunk of his vehicle as well as his automatic sidearm, and he is nowhere near as well equipped as the kids carrying out these ‘drive bys’.

The cop asks me what firearm I carry and I tell him that I don’t, and don’t have a permit to carry.  He looks at me in amazement ‘but Ma’am in your job, you must have a firearm’

I tell him that I won’t carry a firearm for many reasons, but one reason is that I know I have an instinct of survival and that if I carry a gun I might just feel tempted to use it.  To which he replies “that is the point!”.  I explain that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if  I pulled the trigger and killed someone, no matter what the circumstances and he tells me “you English sure are principled”.

The reality is that I can use a firearm and I regularly visit the shooting range as I like to use all the firearms my clients are alleged to have used, so that when they give me the standard phrase ‘the gun just went off’ I can tell them that it doesn’t happen like that, I have tried the firearm and the trigger pull is such that it can’t just go off.  But I will never carry a firearm, as I know that one day I may be in a confrontation and the ‘Red Mist’ may come down, and that is when I would end up like many of my clients…a kill shot in anger can end with a cell on Death Row.

The lift doors opens and an inmate is escorted to the holding cell in the hall.  This is where he will be held until the cop has completed the paperwork to take him to the State Attorney’s Office.  In the meantime, all the inmates who walk past and see him in the holding cell, and the cop in the Hall, shout out ‘Snitches get Stitches”.  For this inmate, if he is returned to the Pre Trial Detention Centre he will not have an easy life.  It is common for the inmates to be transferred to another jail after a visit to the SAO, and often they end up with a stay in solitary confinement for their own protection, to stop them needing ‘stitches’

I scoot over to the lift and push 5 before anyone can challenge me…the Gladiator floor is often placed on lockdown after an inmate is taken out of the pen as the other inmates get worried about whether the inmate is going to snitch on them, so I want to get in to see my client before lock down comes into force.

As I get into the lift, I hear the Cop’s voice behind me…”You want to think about that firearm, Ma’am”.  He points his two fingers at me as the lift doors close and smiles..

The Social Cleansing of Football and Why Fans Should Challenge It


Football Supporters come from all walks of life from students to managing directors, paramedics to builders, train drivers to architects, children to pensioners. There is often nothing to link a group of football supporters other than their love of the game. Many supporters will attend home and away games, week after week, paying a not inconsiderable amount of money for their ticket and travel on top. Yet despite this, football supporters are increasingly being treated badly by their clubs.

A lot of the complaints I receive from fans amount to a social cleansing of the game. Supporters having their season tickets cancelled for no real reason, clubs banning fans for life for one minor indiscretion, clubs canceling a supporter’s membership due to the behaviour of another member of their family at a football match. Many supporters are reporting to me that they are receiving threatening letters from the Club’s lawyers, in effect telling them that legal action will be brought against them for their behaviour of using social network to make complaints about the Club management, unless they agree in writing not to write anything else on social network or fanzines about the Club.

My social cleansing theory on this is that the game of football was always a working person’s game. Supporting a particular team has been passed down through generations in many families, and it is a game that families attend together. However, in the current scheme of marketing, TV viewing rights, and financial promotion of many teams, the costs of a season ticket for a father and son or daughter pales into insignificance when compared with the corporate costs charged for a box, or particular seats in the Stadium. A box which can seat around 8 fans, and costing between £30000 and £40000 for a season has to be a better option for a club than 8 season tickets which may bring in less than £4000. Add to this that the beer in the box area flows at around £5 a pint, and the catering for a few sausage rolls and a slice of lasagna can run to more than £10 per head, and it is easy to see why the usual season ticket holders or occasional ticket purchasers are no longer favoured by the clubs.

So how does this link in with the fans being hassled by the clubs? Firstly, if fans who are openly criticising their club manage to get a following on social media or fanzines then this can create a movement that the Club can’t control. Clubs are trying to nip this in the bud. Secondly, banners at the ground do not look good for a club when the footage is screened around the World. Clubs are trying to promote this World image that does not accord with fans who are complaining about ticket prices, safe standing, and clubs that are happy to play overseas despite knowing that their players will be subjected to racial abuse or worse.

I have been advising fans on their options on having their membership or season ticket cancelled by a club. I always comment on the fact that supporters will put up with their club treating them badly, and will still go along to the match week after week, but once a season ticket or membership is taken away, that is when a football fan decides to fight. The main reason for this is that while a supporter has a season ticket, the Club has a stick to wield as it can threaten to cancel the season ticket or membership if the supporter continues with their complaint. But until fans start to challenge this overbearing behaviour by the clubs, it will continue and the fans will be the ones to suffer.

Alison Gurden advises and represents on all these issues and all other areas of Football Supporter Law.


About Me

I am a social justice barrister, with an interest in criminal law, complaints against the police, prison law, International human rights, inquests and any challenging cases which involve the criminal justice system.


  • football supporter law;
  • human trafficking;
  • defending people facing the death penalty.

My employment law work includes unfair dismissal, whistle blowing, minimum wage claims and discrimination, also police and prison officer disciplinaries.

I have been voted Pro Bono Lawyer of the year for 2012 and have also been awarded the Florida Criminal Defence Lawyers Association Rodney Thaxton Award for criminal defence work on a high profile death penalty case.  The Florida Chapter of the American Civil Liberities Union awarded me the Clyde Atkins Award for my work defending death penalty cases.

I work from 1 Gray’s Inn Square chambers in London, but will travel anywhere.

I can be contacted via or