Archive | March 2014

Why the Reading Chronicle demonisation of football fans affects more than football

Some of you may have seen my strongly worded tweets last week when the Reading Chronicle published it’s inflammatory, factually incorrect and misleading article suggesting that Reading FC fans (or at least a large contingent of them) are football hooligans and it is only due to the hard work of the police and the Reading FC management that it was all being kept under control. This was complimented by a staged photo of a person wearing a Reading FC shirt, a scarf wrapped around their face, carrying a piece of wood and looking ‘thuggish’.

Not only was the article poorly written and the journalist clearly hadn’t done his research as he seemed to be unaware of the Hillsborough developments over the past year, but it was also potentially very damaging to football fans.

Many of the inaccuracies in the article (and there are too many to mention) have already been addressed by other fans and journalists see Reading FC fan Jon Keen’s response http://thetilehurstend.sbnation.com/2014/3/20/5529246/tawdry-and-offensive-journalism-at-its-best and the Liverpool Echo’s article http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/reading-chronicle-issues-unreserved-apology-6861586

The suggestion that the reason there is no trouble at Reading FC is solely due to the police and Reading FC, is rubbish. It is suggested that the police have worked so well with the Club that police have not been required to police at many Reading matches. This shows a complete lack of awareness of football policing. The main thrust of football policing is identifying and managing risk supporters. The police charge a football club for all policing required inside the Ground and also on what is called ‘The Footprint’, the area surrounding the Ground where police identify that they need to be in attendance before, during and after the game.  In the case of Reading, the Footprint is not very large due to the location of the Madejski Stadium being away from the town and major transport hubs. if there is any suggestion that there will be risk supporters in attendance at a match the police will insist on having officers inside the ground and on The Footprint. The Footprint can be a bone of contention with Clubs as they often have to pay heavily for the policing outside of the ground even when the Club considers there is no need. Leeds United FC challenged this footprint charging by West Yorks Police a few years ago in the High Court http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jul/24/leeds-united-win-police-costs  I have spoken to Club Chairmen and Directors who often complain that effectively the Footprint is being used as an excuse to fund police overtime, and policing of the leisure parks and towns at a weekend.

The Reading Chronicle and Thames Valley Police have acknowledged that many of the Games were unpoliced (although I assume that the football intelligence officers and football spotters would have been in attendance still as they usually still attend a non-policed match). The significance of this is that the police football intelligence must have indicated that there would be no risk supporters at these matches and that all other fans are recognised as law abiding, and well behaved. Not the thugs and hooligans the Reading Chronicle would like them to be.

So why is the Reading Chronicle article likely to harm football fans if they are all law abiding?

Let’s face it much of the media and the general public have a dim view of football fans. The fact that an MP felt it appropriate to call football fans on a night out in Covent Garden, ‘Scum’ without checking his facts, shows the disrespect football fans face. The Met Police who were in attendance had no complaint about fan behaviour, and the trash that had been left behind by the fans was because the Borough removed most of the bins as part of its cost cutting measures.

The problem with the Reading Chronicle articles is that it can create ‘guilt by association’.  Employers in the local area may check the social media of potential employees, and a fan who writes a tweet or a Facebook post about their trip to Reading FC on Saturday may be seen by the potential employer as a bit of a risk, they may be a hooligan.  Cafés and bars in town may decide that they don’t want to serve a Latte to a fan incase they cause trouble. And so on…

If you think I am being sensationalist, consider this. I had a call a few weeks ago about a fan who had been arrested for drink driving.  He pleaded guilty, and when the Crown Prosecution Service explained the facts,  the first thing the court was told was that the driver was a football fan and a season ticket was found on him when he was arrested.  In actual fact he was not driving from a match, but had gone home after the match, not having had a drink at the match, had gone out that evening to a friend’s house where he had drunk alcohol and caught a taxi home. He was arrested the next day as he drove to work and unknown to him he was slightly over the legal alcohol limit. The first question the Magistrates asked was whether they could make a football banning order on him. The case was even adjourned off so that the Crown Prosecution Service could enquire with the police about making a football banning application. What should have been a simple drink driving sentencing matter of a fine and disqualification from driving turned into a complete fiasco and a waste of a great deal of tax payers money due to the fact the driver was a football fan. Fortunately, in that case the solicitor for the driver and the football intelligence officer both agreed that it was nonsense for the court to consider a football banning order , but it is evidence of the attitude towards football fans.

My non football fan friends could not understand why I was so upset by the Reading Chronicle article…hopefully this now explains why.

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Going to the England Friendlies in Miami – Updated directions to the stadium

 

If you have read this blog previously, see this updated link to the directions on how to get to the Stadium as despite my initial info that the new stadium was going to be used, I have now had confirmation that the Sunlife Stadium in Miami Gardens is the correct stadium, so ignore my previous directions!  

 http://www.sunlifestadium.com/directions  Parking at the Stadium is usually charged and will likely be around $25.  Allow at least an hour to drive to the Stadium from South Beach or Downtown as traffic in Miami can be heavy even during the day.

The easiest route via bus from South Beach is a bus to Aventura Mall (either the 120 Beach Max Express or S route)  and then the 99 bus from outside the Aventura food court which will take you to the Sun Life Stadium.  http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/routes_schedule.asp?srv=WEEKDAY&dir=Westbound&rt=99  allow about 2 hours for the bus as traffic in Miami can be heavy.

You can buy a bus and rail day pass or an Easy Pass (which you can top up and works like a London Transport Oyster).  Passes can be purchased or topped up at various outlets around Miami Beach and Downtown – ask at your hotel for your nearest venue or see this list http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/easy-card-sales-outlets.asp#1

If traveling from Downtown, you can take the Metrorail to Martin Luther King Junior Station (green line towards Palmetto) and then catch the 27 bus http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/routes_schedule.asp?srv=WEEKDAY&dir=Northbound&rt=27  This Station is not in the greatest part of town so be careful with your belongings when waiting for the bus outside this station.

If you are taking a taxi, make sure you agree the price in advance it will probably be around $45-$55 either from Downtown or South Beach. Hotels will also arrange a transfer to the Stadium.

Miami is made up of many municipal areas includingMiami Dade (think CSI Miami and Dexter – although both are actually filmed mainly in California), Miami Beach (think Burn Notice – which is actually filmed in Miami), and City of Miami (think First 48).

If you are looking for somewhere to stay, I recommend Miami South Beach, its like its own Art Deco town on the edge of the beach, with bars, restaurants, clubs, shopping, and an amazing white sandy beach that runs for miles and warm ocean. It is easy to get to the rest of Miami from South Beach either by car or bus, although with the exception of going to the stadium there is probably no need to leave South Beach. The area that is known as Miami Beach is about 15 miles long, so if you want to be close to the hub of the action, make sure that you book accommodation in Miami South Beach and not just Miami Beach. The further North the accommodation on Miami Beach the cheaper it is, and while the beach runs all the way along there are very few shops, restaurants and bars North of 24th Street. So if you are looking to stay on South Beach the best location is between 5th and 24th Street (these streets run horizontal to the beach) and Collins Avenue and Alton Road (these run parallel to the beach, with Collins Avenue being the closest to the beach). Hotels on South Beach range from the super chic W Hotel to some fairly low end, low quality rooms, so its a good idea to check them out on Trip Advisor.

If you are looking for cheaper but decent accommodation, then many of the chain hotels such as the Marriott, Crown Plaza and Holiday Inn are downtown. The location is ok, but is fairly quiet in the evening as this area is mainly a business district. The closest to South Beach is the Marriott at Omni which is just across the causeway from South Beach. Anywhere is Brickell will be like a ghost town after about 9pm.

If you stay at the airport hotels and don’t have a car you will find it very difficult to get around, unless you go back to the airport every time and jump on the buses or Metrorail. There is also accommodation at Doral and Miami Springs, both are quite a way from the Stadium and quite a distance from the beach and you will need a car to get around from these areas.

If you have a few days to kill, look at renting a car and taking a trip to the Florida Keys. The 100 mile trip is well worth it, even just the road trip is beautiful, there is only one road in and out of the Keys and it joins all the keys (islands) together. Key West is the party town, and is full of NFL mums who spend most of the year baking cookies and doing the school run, but who come to Key West to drink in the streets, ride a scooter, wear T-shirts with rude slogans and dance on the table in Jimmy Buffet’s Margarita Bar. But if you can stand that, it is quite a quaint town which is the base for fishing and diving charters and all things involving the sea. If you don’t want to do the 100 mile trip, Key Largo is about an hour drive from Miami and has John Pennecamp National Park which is less than $10 to enter for a car with 4 passengers, and offers snorkeling, kayaking, boat trips, fishing and camping.

However, if you are looking for a 24 hour party trip, then you will not need to leave South Beach where the streets are at their busiest at around 4am and quietest around 7.30am. As Pitbull says “what happens in Miami…Never happened”!

 “FA Cup Final to be bubble Policedand there is nothing fans can do about it

Governors decide a local primary school will be closed down due to disagreements with the Head teacherand the parents have no power to challenge it”

“Your nearest hospital will now be 25 miles awaysources say patients’ views on the matter were not even considered

Town’s fire station to be closed as the Local Authority wants to sell the land to housing developers, but doesn’t plan a replacement fire stationLocal Authority say they are doing it ‘because they can‘”

Don’t panic, these are fictitious headlines – at the moment. But they give an idea of the all to real prospect of the future if the Lord Chancellor’s plans to effectively remove legal aid from judicial review proceedings go ahead.

I am sure some of you are thinking ‘oh there she goes again, banging on about legal aid.” And you are right, I have been quite vocal about the Government’s renewed attack on legal aid. 7th March 2014 is a day of action for lawyers opposed to this destruction of legal aid, and this is why lawyers are still fighting for this.

Football fans have faced many restrictions on their freedom of movement, association, and speech through the restrictions placed on them by the Police and Local Councils when attending football matches. Many of these restrictions, including bubble policing, limitation of away ticket numbers, requirement to produce ID when traveling to a match, and fans being held in pubs and clubs and being prevented from attending the match being played only yards away have all been challenged by legal actions such as judicial review. In many instances, the fact that the judicial review proceedings were issued was sufficient for the Police or Local Authority to rethink its restrictions. These legal challenges have only been possible due to legal aid. Ignoring the costs of preparing the application (as many lawyers will offer this for free) the court costs are too restrictive for most fans to be able to afford to pay.

But it is not just football fans…. Challenges to a decision to close a local secondary school, cancel a bus route, close a fire station.. all the decisions which affect our daily lives are the types of judicial review applications which have been brought in the past two years. We have seen the Government and Local Authorities cutting services with abandon, so it is now more important than ever that we are able to challenge their decisions.

I anticipate that in the lead up to the 7th March 2014, the Government will start its usual spin with the media. The standard phrases of “most expensive legal aid system in the World”, “fat cat lawyers” and ‘Your tax shouldn’t be funding unemployed career criminals to get off on technicalities” will appear in some newspapers and in the Ministry of Justice press releases. I don’t intend to spend time telling you why this spin is so factually incorrect, if you want to know more, the Criminal Bar Association website has tons of articles on this misrepresentation of the facts. http://www.criminalbarassociation.wordpress.com

But what the Government spin is not telling you is that it is exactly the low to middle income tax payer who will be losing out in this decimation of legal aid, which doesn’t only affect crime. Judicial review is the means by which the Government. Local authorities and other public bodies can be held to account. The Government plans to severely restrict legal aid in judicial review cases, such that there will be no legal aid available for most cases, and in cases where legal aid could possibly be granted, it will only be granted if the claim is most likely to be successful. Lets face it, if the Police, Local Authority, Government thought that the application against them was most likely to be successful, then they should withdraw the offending rule or policy. To continue opposing the application would be a waste of tax payers money.

But it is in cases where there is no clear answer on whether the public authority or the complainant who is right, that judicial review is most important. The whole point of judicial review is to be able to challenge the actions of the state, not just those where the State is overwhelmingly and obviously wrong. Without the prospect of being challenged, the public authorities will be able to do what they want with impunity, because they know that whether they are right or not, the general public will not be able to afford to challenge them. Cynics like me are questioning whether this is the actually the Government motive as there have been some quite high profile losses for the Government in judicial review cases in the past three years. Whatever the motive, without access to legal aid for judicial review the Government, Public Authorities and Local Authorities will be able to spend tax payers money as the wish without any threat of challenge. This is certainly not a future I want see…how about you?

What you can do to help.

Sign this petition started by Joanna Lumley www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-cameron-uk-government-save-legal-aid-to-protect-access-to-justice-for-all

Make others aware of the issues, spread the word via social media, or in your workplace or just among family and friends.

Write a complaint to your MP or start a petition to present to your MP.

Many of us lawyers are working very hard to fight these proposed changes, but we can’t do it alone, we need your help.

To find out more about the proposed changes to judicial review and what judicial review is all about read this one page guide prepared by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors www.disabilityrightsuk.org/sites/default/files/pdf/judicialreview.pdf