Dispersal Orders and Millwall Fans…. The reality of travelling to Coventry without a ticket.
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