Despite the fact there are very few British fans involved in trouble at overseas football matches, Sections 21A,B & C of the Football Supporters Act 1989 are very draconian and may permit a police officer to detain an innocent fan and hold them until after their flight has departed. In other words, stopping an innocent fan from attending overseas matches, despite the fact they have paid for the plane ticket, accommodation, and tickets to the matches.
So what does the law really say on this?
A police officer in uniform, not in civvies, may detain a British football fan for 4 hours ( or 6 with the approval of an Inspector or above) at an airport or port, but at the time of the detention they must have reasonable grounds to suspect the fan has caused or contributed to violence or disorder previously. This means the Police officer cannot just detain a fan they don’t like the look of.
Any detention without this reasonable suspicion will be unlawful detention. The ‘gut feeling’ of the officer that the fan may commit disorder in the future is not enough there has to be something indicating the fan has been involved in disorder in the past.
If there is something in the past, the officer must also have a reasonable suspicion that the fan is likely to be involved in disorder at a football match in the future. If the officer holds both of these suspicions he can issue a notice requiring the fan to attend the Magistrates Court within 24 hours, they can also take away the fans passport until they get to court.
If the officer believes that the fan will not turn up at court, for example by saying “well I am going to get on the flight anyway”, they can arrest the fan and detain them for up to 24 hours until they are taken to court.
These measures don’t require a lot of police information or intelligence to justify a ‘reasonable suspicion’. A football intelligence officer can pretty much sit in Starbucks at the airport sipping their hot chocolate and watching social media on their iPhone. Tweets such as “England fans ready to cause havoc” alongside a group of fans in the airport holding up their pint glasses, with a pin showing their location is probably all a keen football intelligence officer will need for that ‘reasonable suspicion’.
It shouldn’t be the case that fans face such gross restrictions of their freedom of movement and expression, but sadly successive Governments seem to think that football fans don’t have the same rights as the rest of society, and until the fans start to campaign against these harsh measures they won’t change. In the meantime, if you are travelling to the International Friendlies, be careful with your social media use.
I prepared a leaflet for the World Cup, but the same applies to all International matches. Print off my guide to your rights, to fold and keep in your passport.