Sadly, it is the second time in a week that I have had to write a blog advising Millwall FC fans of their rights.. the victimisation of Millwall FC fans seems to continue.
British Transport Police (BTP) today sent out a tweet telling Millwall FC fans that if they travel to Coventry without a ticket for the match on Saturday April 16th April they will likely be served with a notice to leave the City by West Midlands Police.
The reasoning behind this seems to be that the match is a sell out so any fan travelling without a ticket must be doing so to cause disorder or act in an anti-social manner. Once again, this shows that the fan culture is clearly not understood by British Transport Police, who in recent months
- has held a high level conference purely to discuss how it considers travelling football fans to be a menace on the trains;
- has encouraged the train companies to make ‘dry trains’;
- has increased the number of football banning order applications against football fans, including asking the court for a 5 year football banning order which includes a curfew so that the fan cannot leave their house while their team is playing, despite the fact they live nowhere near the football stadium.
Anyone would think that British Transport Police are trying to justify the funding of the new BTP football units which have sprung up around the country.
So what is the dispersal notice? Under Section 34 of the Anti Social Behavior, Crime and Policing Act 2014 an Inspector may authorise the use of dispersal powers for a period up to 48 hours, only in a specified area and there must be reasonable grounds for believing that this is necessary for reducing crime or disorder, or harassment, distress or alarm to members of the public. In other words, the Inspector cannot just authorise that the whole of Coventry is subject to a dispersal notice, there has to be good reason.
I have heard of many fans being served with dispersal notices and challenging the notices at a later stage. This is often the wrong approach. If the Inspector didn’t have good reason to authorise the use of the dispersal powers in the first place, then any notice issued to a fan is unlawful. It is common that when I make an application for the Inspector authorisation and justification, the CPS decide to drop the case and I never receive the authorisation. Call me suspicious but that usually leads me to believe that the Inspector didn’t quite have the reasonable belief of disorder by football fans after all.
British Transport Police, which does not have the jurisdiction over Coventry City Centre is merely being the mouth piece for West Midlands Police. It is interesting to note that neither West Midlands Police or the Coventry City FC Football Unit seem to have made this announcement.
If the Inspector does authorise a dispersal area, that does not mean everyone who is in that area can be told to leave. The requirements (under Section 35 of the Act) are that a police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person has contributed to or is likely to contribute to –
(a) members of the public in the area being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or
(b) the occurrence of crime or disorder in the area.
And the police officer must also consider that giving a direction to leave is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of the events in (a) or (b).
In other words, the mere fact a fan does not have a ticket is not justification for them being told to leave the City, there has to be something more.
However, while this all sounds as though the powers cannot be used against Millwall FC fans, the reality is not as clear cut. If a police officer issues a dispersal notice to a fan, and they refuse to leave, the chances are they will be arrested. The police have powers to arrest under Section 39 of the Act. It will then be for the fan to show, either at the police station, or in court (if they are charged) that the authorisation or notice was unlawful. In my experience, this means a fan will end up having to travel back to Coventry at a later date to challenge this in court, or alternatively will have spent a good few hours in a police station, and if they have not been arrested previously, the fan will find that on arrest their fingerprints and DNA are taken. The fan may also find that they are placed on bail conditions not to go to football matches until the case goes to court. So although legally there may not be any justification for the dispersal notice, it may still cause a lot of inconvenience to the fan, and they may miss the rest of the season due to bail conditions not to attend a football match.
My advice is that if you are a Millwall FC fan, without a ticket, there is nothing stopping you from going to Coventry, but if you are issued with a dispersal notice, leave the area and then challenge it. Do not challenge it with the police at that time as you will no doubt be arrested. If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer and ask them to ask for the Inspector’s authorisation. If you end up with bail conditions not to go to a football match, these can be challenged but it will mean a trip back to Coventry, whereas if you have a lawyer in the police station, you are much less likely to end up with bail conditions.
Print out this blog and take it with you.. if you are arrested, it may help with negotiations with a custody sergeant.
Both myself and Melanie Cooke can advise on this if you are asked to leave the area, or are arrested, or charged. Keep our numbers handy:
@gurdena 07941 212357
Melanie Cooke @Football_Legal is regulated to offer duty solicitor assistance in the police station 07834 483092
With the recent publication of photos in the press of football fans who the police wish to question following the Oxford United v Millwall FC match, this is a reminder to football fans that, sadly, you are often portrayed as hooligans until you can prove otherwise.
If you are a Millwall FC fan and your photo has been published in the press, then the chances are that you will be identified to the police at some stage. This may then lead to an early morning front door knock by the police and arrest. It is often better to make arrangements to visit the police station and identify yourself as being in the photo. Especially if you have not been arrested for anything previously. Once you are arrested the police are entitled to take your fingerprints and DNA and this will be held on file forever more, whether you are charged with an offence or not. If you make arrangements for a voluntary interview at the police station with a lawyer, and can show that you are are either mistakenly identified or that you have done nothing wrong, it is likely that you will not be arrested and your DNA and fingerprints will not be taken.
If you are arrested, there is a high likelihood that you will be charged with a football related offence unless you are legally represented. The police may tell you that it will take a while for a lawyer to attend custody to represent you. Don’t be fooled into believing that without a lawyer you will be in and out of the police station in no-time. Speak to any football fan who has been arrested, 5-6 hours is the standard detention time in a police station, whether or not a person is represented by a lawyer. If you are not legally represented in interview, the officer will no doubt state that he or she thinks that you could be suitable for a caution and release from custody. You will then be held in custody for quite a while longer and then be told by the officer that, unfortunately their superior has said that a caution is not possible and that you will have to be charged and it can be sorted out at court. This is standard as the Home Office guidance is that all football related offences should be charged rather than a caution issued. The next thing which is likely to happen is that the custody sergeant will issue bail conditions that include not to go to Millwall FC matches, but can be as specific as not to leave your own home from an hour before Millwall FC play until 5 hours after final whistle. That’s a home curfew on a Saturday and some weekday evenings, and can last for months until a court date! You will also be issued with a notice saying that an application will be made for a football banning order.
Hence, a quick ‘chat’ down the police station has turned into your fingerprints and DNA being taken, charge and court date, a home curfew and potential football banning order. It sounds extreme but unfortunately in relation to football fans it’s the same thing I am hearing week after week.
I represent football fans who are charged with football and non football offences and who find themselves in court. When I tell people about the work that I do, most say.. ‘oh football hooligans’ and that is often followed by comments such as ‘ I bet you get a lot of Millwall fans’. The reality is quite different, most of the people I represent have never been arrested before and have no links to violence, they couldn’t be further from the ‘hooligan’ tag if they tried. Likewise, the majority of my work does not come from Millwall fans. The Home Office figures which are published every year on arrests at football matches show that in 2014/15 season in the Championship League Millwall FC fan arrests were much lower than Derby County FC or Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Sadly the reputation of Millwall FC in the media, which doesn’t reflect the huge community work of the club or the amazing work and achievements of Millwall Kicks, means that anytime there is a suggestion that Millwall fans have been suspected of disorder at football the media are quick to promote the photos provided by the police or club of those who are believed to have been involved, and are slow to remove them from websites once the person has been identified. This reputation also carries to the court room, and I notice that as soon as the court hears that a football fan is a Millwall FC fan, there are lots of knowing nods by the magistrates, as if to say …’well that is no surprise.’
I cannot say that if you seek legal advice you won’t be charged with an offence and convicted and end up with a football banning order, but with good legal assistance your chances of this not happening are greatly increased. And the sooner you obtain legal assistance the better as it may mean that the negotiations with the police can be carried out prior to a trip to the police station, or before a trial at court. I work closely with Melanie Cooke, a solicitor specialising in football fan cases, and many of our cases do not reach trial due to the negotiations we are able to carry out beforehand. My advice is that if your photograph has been published in the media, you contact myself or Melanie Cooke and work out the next steps.
Finally, social media is the new investigatory tool for the media and some police officers. Anything you put on a social media account is on the internet forever, and may come back and haunt you. My advice is that if your photo is published in the press, lock down or close down your social media account for a while. A photo of a football fan being chased by the police as a profile picture may seem funny, but when it is shown to non football fan magistrates, it takes on a whole new meaning!
The Chelsea Paris Metro incident is a prime example of how people who did nothing more than stand on a metro train had their lives dragged through the mud due to the postings they had made on social media. Many of those identified by the press were not suspected by the police of being involved in the incident, yet they were still identified by the press as Chelsea fans, had their social media postings published, and under a banner headline which said ‘Chelsea Racists’ with a tiny disclaimer at the bottom of the page which said that not all of those in the photo may have been involved in the incident, and who reads the small print?
So, although this might seem like self promotion, the moral of this blog is .. if the police or media want to speak to you.. the only word which should come out of your mouth is ‘lawyer’. Trust me, in the long run, the less a fan’s mouth runs away with them when speaking to the police or media, the better the outcome.
Follow me on twitter @gurdena
I can be contacted on 07941 212357 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie Cooke can be contacted on 07834 483092 or email@example.com
I could write something wordy and legal about knife crime, but I don’t want to get to the lawyers and the police, that’s preaching to the converted. The reality is that, like it or not, those we need to reach with the knife crime reality are those who are allowing these knives to walk out of their front door every day, the parents and the schools.
I spend many hours with parents who won’t accept until its too late that their son or daughter is carrying a knife which they have taken from their kitchen or which has been bought on the internet with their debit card. Likewise, I spent many hours with youths who tell me that knives are rife in their school but that the schools don’t like to accept it for fear of bad publicity, or with police officers who tell me that the schools will not permit them to go into schools and carry out knife searches when the students are present as they don’t want to give the wrong impression to parents.
Well, these parents and schools need to wake up. Their sons and daughters are carrying knives, they are taking them from the kitchen or garage, they are buying them on the internet and having them imported from places like China for less than £10. Any every one of these knives when taken out of the house becomes a potential weapon.
The police have powers to search schools and students for knives, but until schools work with the police to allow random searches, the students will continue to carry these knives in their bags and clothes. The police use the term disruption, and that‘s what random school searches will become, the majority of pupils will stop bringing knives to school as it will be too difficult. But without the support of the schools, these random searches will never happen, and Head Teachers will continue to stand in front of the press and give a glowing tribute to another life lost.
There is a big debate on stop and search. I don‘t want to get into that argument, but it is clear that random searches of a class or year group or section of the school will not be subject to the same stop and search arguments, it won’t be targeting certain individuals, and it will be sanctioned by the school.
This will require a strong Governor Board to stand up to parents who complain about their son or daughter being searched when they have done nothing wrong. Those same parents who may one day be standing infront of the press taking about how their son or daughter was a budding athlete, footballer, musician, until their life was taken by a knife.
Knife crime is tough.. it kills…and the only way to try and reduce it is to give out tough messages.
There is legislation drafted to prosecute anyone who orders a knife on the internet from overseas, unfortunately it is not yet in force, and there is no date for it to come into force. As a defence lawyer, I will no doubt be criticised for saying that I think there should be tougher laws in place on importation of weapons, but as a defence lawyer I see the lives destroyed by knives, the clients who end up in prison or a young offenders institution for possession or use of a knife, bought on the internet from China for the same price as a KFC family bucket meal. If a parent’s debit card is linked to a purchase and it’s the parent who is getting a knock from the police and being asked to go the police station they are more likely to question what their son or daughter is ordering on the internet.
The police can only do so much and, to be blunt (no pun intended), once a knife is out of the house or school it’s possibly too late. The fact it’s an offence to carry a knife doesn’t act as a deterrent to many knife carriers, nor has the increase in sentence had a knock on effect of a downward spiral or knife possession. So perhaps parents and schools are the answer..or at least part way to the answer of reducing the number of youths who are bleeding out cold on the pavement.