Football Fan? Travelling Overseas In The Next Few Weeks? You Are Likely To Be Stopped At The Airport or Port… Here’s Why…..
Over the past few weeks, Police Forces from around the Country and the Home Office have been putting out media spin about football fans and the Euros. Headlines explaining how they are working to ensure football hooligans don’t travel overseas and cause trouble in France.
But what these headlines haven’t said is that the Home Office UK Football Policing Unit has been expanded with the aim of stopping football fans from travelling overseas, as a means of obtaining more football banning orders against fans. And all this, so that the football policing operation can be hailed a success as more bans have been obtained…on people who would ‘obviously’ have caused trouble at the Euros in France.
Likewise there has been a lot of spin about whether the Euros Policing Operation is lawful. Whether it is, or not, that’s not going to assist those fans stopped at the airport or port. Any legal challenge will have to be at a later stage, and only if the fans are stopped and can show it wasn’t justified. For now, I’m more interested in what a fan should do if they are stopped from leaving the country over the next few weeks.
The Ports Operation, as it is referred to by the police and Home Office, starts tomorrow. This means that police officers will be at ports and airports checking the details of those travelling overseas. This applies to everyone, not just those who have tickets to the Euro matches, or who are travelling to France. Those flying or catching a ferry to mainland Spain or catching the Eurostar to Belgium will also be monitored by the police. The police on the Ports Operation have been given instructions by the UK Football Policing Unit to prevent anyone who has a previous football related criminal conviction (in the last five years) or non football violent or disorderly conviction (in the past three years) from travelling unless the police believe they are definitely not going to France for the Euros. But it actually goes further than this, as a criminal conviction is not required if it is believed that a person has caused or contributed to disorder or violence in the past three years.
The police have the powers under the Football Spectators Act to detain a person for up to 6 hours in order to carry out enquiries, and at any time in those 6 hours to seize a person’s passport, which essentially stops them from travelling. There will be 4 Inspectors on call in the UK Football Policing Unit to authorise a person’s detention and surrender of passport. There are another 8 police officers in this unit to build a case for court to ensure that a football banning order application is made within 24 hours. Hence the reason it has to be seen as a success.. As the UK Football Policing Unit doesn’t want egg on its face – funded by the Home Office as a costly necessary extra, and not obtaining any bans, that’s not good for those counting targets!
Some dedicated football officers have spent the last few months preparing ‘bad character’ packs on some fans who they wish to ban. So in effect the police are ready to go with any applications, not quite the same as the fans who are ready to go with their holiday sun screen and shorts!
So what should fans do? My suggestion is that, if you think you may be stopped as part of the Ports Operation, prepare your own ‘good character’ pack. Include character references, if you are travelling overseas to the Euros have evidence that you have travelled overseas to matches previously. You should also ensure you have evidence of accommodation booked, who you are travelling with, and for how long.
This is not to say that everyone travelling to France, Spain or Belgium will be stopped and questioned by the police, but if you are a football fan, the chances are you will be asked about your plans. The Ports Operation is quite slick, the police know who they are looking for, and the details will be held on the UKFPU computers, so travelling out of an airport or port somewhere else around the country won’t prevent a stop by police, chances are, by the time you get to the airport, the police will already know who is booked onto a flight.
If you are stopped, and detained, myself and Melanie Cooke will be available on call throughout the Euro period to assist, and if necessary to attend court for you. Anyone stopped can only be detained for 6 hours, although their passport can be seized. They should then be given a court date within 24 hours to apply for the return of their passport, or alternatively for the police to apply for a football banning order. And that’s where the good character information comes into play. It will be easier for me to defend a police application for a football banning order or request return of a passport if I have a bit more than a copy of a boarding pass or ferry ticket. Be prepared to play the police and UK Football Policing Unit at their own game (no pun intended).
Hopefully you won’t be stopped, but if you are stopped: contact me on 07941 212357 or Mel Cooke on 07834 483092. We are available 24/7 during the Euros.