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.
The World is Not Rosy & Delicate. Law Schools and Senior Police Officers Need To Grow Some Balls & Stop Pretending That It Is.
A couple of weeks ago I rang a friend at midnight and said “talk to me and make me laugh…” He didn’t ask any questions he just did as I asked. Half an hour later, after I was back to my usual self, he said ” so what was it this time?” I told him about the CCTV I’d just watched.. A youth turning into a street where I knew he was going to be killed, and how for the next 7 minutes I’d watched him die on CCTV.
My friend is a cop and I do the same for him when he has been to a particularly bad road accident, has entered a house to find a decomposing body, or been first on the scene to a stabbing. It’s what we do, we don’t shy away from it. I won’t say it doesn’t have an effect on us because it does, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum, me a Defence lawyer, him a cop in a big city, but we have chosen our jobs and enjoy our jobs. If we didn’t, we would have stuck at them all these years.
So It concerns me that warnings are being given out to students in criminal law lectures. The reality is that those who want to practice criminal law need to be able to represent the client no matter what. That CCTV may have affected me when I first watched it, but by the time it is shown to a jury I have to be fully composed. My client needs to know that I will fight their case, not fall at the first difficult hurdle. There is no point in treating students with kid gloves they need to see the World for what it is, and if they don’t like it, now is the time to get out, not when they are sitting in an interview room at the police station while a client is being shown photos of a young child he is alleged to have beaten and raped.
There will be those who say ‘ but not all crime is as serious as your cases’ and fortunately that’s right, but as a police station legal representative, you can’t pick and choose your cases, you get what is in the cells, or alternatively what your own client is alleged to have committed. And as a defence barrister you take on a case, no matter what, you don’t pick and choose the ‘nice’ ones.
I’m increasingly worried about the way we are training and treating the lawyers of the future.. Last year I was on a pupillage training committee (not with my chambers) and sat through hours of students providing vanilla answers to the vanilla question ‘who would you invite to a dinner party and why?’ I swear if one more student said ‘Nelson Mandela I was going to shoot myself! In an effort to liven up the session, I provided a photo of a woman who had a very large bum implant and asked ‘5 reasons why you would, and 5 reasons why you wouldn’t’. Apparently that wasn’t professional and I was encouraged the leave the committee.
The fact is, life isn’t vanilla, as a lawyer, in whatever area of law you practice, people rarely come to you happy, and with easy to resolve problems. Being a lawyer is about thinking and arguing through a problem to get your client the best result possible & hopefully justice. It’s not about not being offended and not offending anyone else.
Today, Greater Manchester Police have apologised for words shouted during their terrorist training exercise. Well quite frankly, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester should be ashamed of himself for allowing an apology to be given. Terrorist attacks happen.. And it’s only a matter of time before another one happens on UK soil. I want emergency services and a public who are able to respond as effectively as possible, and that involves being faced with realism. Many of those same people complaining about Allahu Akbar being shouted probably have Homeland or the Following or 24 on their tv box as their favourite shows. It’s ok to watch this stuff on the tv, but in real life, where it could actually affect them? No, let’s pretend that doesn’t happen… Well 7/7, Paris and Brussels airport tell us otherwise.
We are moving to a society where everyone has to be protected from everything, social media has a lot to do with this. It’s very easy for a person to complain to the World from the comfort of their sofa. But those same people may be shopping in a major city when a terrorist attack occurs, and although I’d very much love a real life Kevin Bacon to turn up and save me, the reality is, it’s much more likely to be a PC who was involved in one of those training exercises and who has learnt from it, who runs towards the scene. I think I can put money on it not being the apologetic Chief Constable!
Lions Mugshots from Oxford United FC v Millwall FC
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
A youth lies bleeding out on the street at the hands of a knife….
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.
Hold the Gate 3… A visit to Death Row.
As I walk out of my apartment at 03:30 in order to make the 6 hour drive up to a prison half way across the State to see a client, I pass nighttime revellers making their way into the take away joints, and wonder why I choose to drive a 12 hour round trip to spend 2 hours with a client when I could have spent the night in a bar and now be going home to bed. The answer is that my client is facing the death penalty and has not had a single visitor other than me for the past 4 years. His parents have died and his sister and her children decided to move out of State due to the death threats they received. He has been granted a resentencing hearing, this is his one chance of not having to go back to Death Row.
I’ve seen the tv documentaries and series depicting Death Row, and I have to say that’s not the Death Row that I see. When I arrive at the prison, which is in the middle of nowhere, I am searched and then searched again as though it is expected that I will have contraband on me and the corrections officers are so disappointed that they haven’t found it, that they search me again, just to prove a point. The reality is that I’ve been going into prisons for over 20 years, I will never have anything in my pockets, nothing round my neck or wrists, I will be wearing jeans and a long sleeve top, showing as little flesh as possible, and will carry a pad and pen. In high security prisons anything is a commodity, even a paper clip or an elastic band, or sneaker laces. The only commodity I have is me, and I hope that my client believes that I am a more valuable commodity working on his case that being held as a hostage!
When a Death Row inmate is moved, the whole prison is placed on lockdown, hence the other prisoners do not like the Death Row inmates. The corrections officer tells me that they are taking me over to Death Row as the conference room is busy. It’s the first time I have been to this prison and I assume that they are saying this to scare me. The reality is that, as I haven’t been to this death row before, I am desperate to see inside it and see what it’s like, and if it’s as bad as I’ve heard.
We walk through the prison wings, through one locked door after another, I am aware how empty the prison seems. Usually when I walk through prisons I come across inmates everywhere, polishing floors, pushing laundry carts, carrying boxes for staff. But today, as I’m being taken to Death Row, there is noone around, it seems eerie. It really is a lock down. No wonder the rest of the prison inmates don’t like the Death Row inmates.
We arrive at Death Row and I’m struck by the fact there are more corrections officers in this wing than anywhere else, but no inmates. They are all locked away behind cell doors. There is a table in the middle of the room and I’m told to sit there. It’s a very hot day outside and there is no aircon in this wing, Infact there is very little air in this wing. There are a couple of electric fans on the wall and the corrections officers have angled them down towards their chairs. To say it’s stifling in the wing is an understatement.
I notice that every other cell is empty, so that the inmates can’t even talk to the person next to them. I know from conversations with previous clients who have spent time on Death Row, that they are not allowed a colour TV, they can buy an overpriced black and white one which only shows the State run channels….that is the Government channel and a religious preaching channel. The inmates are locked up on their own for 24 hours a day, they usually get one hour of yard time a week, and that is usually in the yard on their own. They can have a couple of phone calls a month, but very few have anyone to call. There are no cats, or birds, wide screen TVs, communal areas, basketball matches.. These seem to exist only in tv documentaries. My client hasn’t had a hot meal since he arrived at Death Row as his food is driven over from the main wings, by the time it’s pushed though his door it is always cold. A few weeks ago his cell was searched and his mattress, sheet and pillow taken, he still doesn’t have them back. He is given postage stamps by the State, but isn’t allowed a pen or paper. His only book permitted is the Bible. Effectively Death Row sends my clients mad.
My client is brought out to the table, shackled at hands and feet, and round his waste. The hard cuffs on his wrists don’t even give him the flexibility to use a pen to sign the forms I have brought with me. I start to ask that my client is unshackled, but he gets very nervous and asks me not to make a scene. As I sit with him I am conscious of corrections officers walking past, much too close, as if to antagonise him, and they then start coughing and muttering things under their breath. So now I’m antagonised! I stand up and say “seems a lot of you in here have a cough, next one who disrespects me while I’m sitting with my client gets to walk the Green Mile to the Warden’s office, now get these cuffs off and move out of our personal space.”
The client looks stunned, the corrections officers stand rooted to the spot and then one comes over and says “he’s a killer, if he kills you, don’t come complaining to us.” The irony seems lost on him.
My client is unshackled and all the corrections officers move to the end of the room, obviously hoping that my client is going to come true on their warning. My client smiles and says ‘no one has ever fought for me before.”
We get to the end of the visit, the client hasn’t killed me, and I’ve ascertained that he went to Death Row aged 18 for a domestic killing. He shot someone who was beating on his mom. The problem was that he is black and the guy he shot was white, and the area they lived in still had segregation until the late 1970’s so at the time of his offence race issues were still prominent.
I could petition the Warden to get my client a mattress, sheet and pillow, pen and paper, but I know it will be of little use. Instead I submit the form I’ve just had my client sign.. The transfer form to get him moved to a jail closer to me so that I can work on his case. A jail that isn’t luxurious, but where he will at least be able to talk to other people.
Meanwhile, I have the unenviable task of trying to prepare a sentencing package for a 30 year old case in which the previous lawyer, who was not a criminal lawyer, didn’t turn up for the sentencing hearing as he was working on a private civil case, but in which the judge didn’t feel the client was sufficiently disadvantaged to postpone….
* I subsequently agreed a sentence of 40 years incarceration (with life probation) with the prosecutor… After all those years on Death Row, my client’s health is so bad I doubt he will make 58, but at least he has some hope, he has a prison job, and the State has been saved the exorbitant amount of money that it costs to keep an inmate on Death Row each year
Why is Middle England avoiding the fact that youths are dying every week at the hands of a youth and a blade?
Many readers won’t like my blunt approach but unless middle class parents in Middle England start to understand the harsh reality of knife crime, their sons and daughters are at risk. Knife crime is a problem and kids across the UK are dying from the blade. The usual comments to the press by a grieving parent is ‘They were a good child, with a great future ahead of them which has been cruelly taken away’. These are the youths who were talented footballers, or aspiring doctors, or just those who went out to a friend’s house for the evening and never came home.
The sad thing is that many of the deaths don’t even make the media anymore, just a common everyday occurrence, and for the majority of the public it is believed to be something which only happens in inner city estates between gangs. Well this is a naïve view. Anyone, anywhere can die or be seriously injured at the hands of someone with a knife.
Part of this naivety comes from the fact that the media doesn’t report it. Schools don’t want to tell the parents about the number of knives being found during knife sweeps in school grounds as they don’t want the parents to question the safety of their children while at school. Many police forces actively discourage any mention of knives being found and knife crime, for fear of the community complaining that the police are not protecting the community and making it safe. Some of the police officers who have the courage to promote their knife findings face criticism (and worse) from their superiors, for speaking out. Fortunately, I can speak out.
And not to overlabour the point, but while this problem is being kept in the shadows, kids are still dying. I know of at least 5 deaths of teenagers around the UK at the hands of the knife in August and September. Put that into perspective, in a class of 30 students, that’s one sixth of the class dead in the space of two months!
I work with kids who are involved in gangs and who carry knives. For them carrying a knife is for status, the gang requires them to carry a weapon, and it is for protection. These knives are usually not just a small blade – machetes, double serrated edge 15 inch blades and flick knives are regularly found by the police during searches of people and cars, at crime scenes and during weapons sweeps in public places. But these are not the only ones carrying knives, and it is the unknown and unsuspected ones who are most at risk.
There is a huge increase in youths carrying knives or blades as they feel the need to do so for their own protection. Youths who have never been in contact with the police before, who are doing well at school and who have a stable home life, but still feel the need to place a knife in their backpack. And these are also the youths who are dying at the end of their own blade, or who are sitting in a police cell for the first time having been found with a knife on them.
It is the parents of these youths who tell me that they had no idea their son or daughter was carrying a knife, and they can’t understand why. And they don’t like my answer which is that ‘it’s what youths do these days, carrying a knife is now commonplace‘. The sad thing is that we are usually having this discussion in a police station or courtroom, by which stage their son or daughter is facing a spell in a young offenders institution.
The question which comes next from most parents is ‘where did they get the knife?’
The answer to that is usually simple, either from the kitchen or from the internet. The first time knife carriers will probably have taken the knife from the kitchen drawer. It may have been noticed missing but the parents never think to question their son or daughter, why would they, they are a good kid. The progression is then to purchasing a knife on the internet, often using a parent’s Paypal account or credit card. A large gutting knife, with a double serrated edge, can be purchased for £9.99 on the internet. Less than £10 can take a life or ruin a life.
The next thing I hear is usually ‘but why didn’t the school warn us?’
Well, firstly it’s not the school’s responsibility to educate the parents, and I usually tell them so. And secondly, knives are not usually taken into the classroom. That would be too easy to detect. Knife sweeps of school grounds, gardens, drainpipes, hedges on the way to the school are all areas where knives are hidden for the day at school and then picked up on the way home, or left there for longer, with the youths safe in the knowledge that if they need to use it at school they know where to find it.
I regularly hear the comment ‘He/she didn’t have it at home because I would have known.’
Again that’s rubbish. Most youths are not even very sophisticated in their hiding places at home as they know that parents will not search their back pack or boxes under their bed. The more sophisticated ones will hide the knife in the places which are harder to spot, back of a Playstation, inside socks in a drawer, strapped underneath an outside window-ledge, or in the hedge in the side alley. But make no mistake, even an unsophisticated knife carrier can easily hide a knife if their parents have no idea that they should look for it.
Staying on the home front, it is also unlikely that many parents would understand their son or daughter was talking about a knife even if they overheard them on the phone or caught a glimpse of their internet chats. Common words for a knife or blade which are more readily known by parents include ‘Shiv’, ‘Shank’, ‘Switch’, ‘Blade’, ‘Sharp’, and ‘Dagger’. But the lesser known slang words include ‘Jammer’, ‘Ox’, ‘Hawk’, ‘Skeng’ ‘Wep’ and ‘Tool’. In a recent case, my client was a young lad arrested for possession of a knife after an off duty officer noticed the lad showing his knife off to his friends just outside the school grounds. I asked him why he had referred to the knife as ‘Skeng’ and he said he didn’t know but he’d looked up the slang words for knife on the internet, and ‘Skeng’ came up so he decided to use it so that his parents wouldn’t know what he was talking about and so that he could look good in front of his friends.
It’s not just young lads who are carrying knives, girls are increasingly carrying knives. The same reasons apply, for their protection and to look good in front of their friends. If their friends are carrying a knife, they don’t want to be the odd one out. The knives carried by girls are often smaller. My female clients have hidden a knife in their make up bag or in a box of sanitary towels. One commented to me that hiding a small folding blade in a bundle of sanitary towels is the easiest way to avoid detection as most teachers or parents won’t search them for fear of embarrassing the girl.
Some of the youths I represent in the youth court have found themselves on the periphery of a gang as they are easily led. These are often the youths who do not have a large circle of friends at school, are perhaps socially awkward or just want a bit of excitement. Gangs will quickly identify a youth who fits into these categories and use them. The youth may be encouraged to purchase one or more knives using their parent’s debit card or Paypal account. Websites may encourage purchases by offering 2 for 1 on knives, so it will not show up as a large amount on the debit card. The youth may be encouraged to hide the knife or carry it as they are not known to the police and will be less likely to be stopped. These youths are usually the least street wise and will hide the knife in their backpack or their locker at school, and will be the most likely to be caught. An excuse of “I was carrying the knife for someone else” is not a defence. The gang members won’t be facing court, but the duped youth will be facing custody.
The harsh reality of these youths carrying knives is that they are either likely to be killed or injured by their own knife or face custody. I hear many youths in the police station or court who now say “Oh, but I didn’t think the police were searching us anymore so I thought I wouldn’t get caught.” Wrong, stop and search is still being carried out by a lot of police officers, and there are other ways of being caught, the off duty officer who witnessed the knife being shown around, was picking his own daughter up from school. Knife sweeps at schools and in public areas are being carried out more frequently by the police and other authorities and a quick check on the school cctv can often identify who has hidden the knife behind the drainpipe or in the bushes at the back of the car park.
The Law on Knife Carrying
Anyone caught carrying a knife for the first time can receive a community or prison sentence. But under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, since July 2015 a youth over 16 who is guilty of carrying a knife in a public place on more than one occasion must be given at least 4 months’ Detention and Training Order, so that means the youth will serve at least 2 months in a young offenders institution and then at least 2 months under close supervision when they are released from custody. Anyone over 18 must be sentenced to at least 6 months in custody. This has created a two strikes rule in relation to carrying knives. Anyone caught with a knife for a second time will be locked up!
In reality, for many of the youths carrying knives, this could mean the end of aspirations of college, apprenticeship, or a job, for a moment of stupidity, by a youth trying to fit in with their mates or thinking that they will protect themselves from a gang attack by carrying a bread-knife!
So what can be done to combat this increase in knife carrying by those who have no previous contact with the police or courts? Parents and family members should speak to youths about knives, and the harsh reality. If a knife goes missing from the kitchen, question it. Listen out for the slang words, challenge a change in behaviour and increased secretism. Schools should be challenged about whether there is a knife problem, not just in school, but outside the grounds, are knife sweeps being carried out, if so what is being found? This will help to highlight the level of the danger to teenagers at that school.
Most police forces offer a knife amnesty bin, which provides a safe disposal of the knife with no questions asked. This should be used by parents who find a knife in their son or daughter’s possession, merely placing the knife elsewhere may result in the youth finding it and taking it back or giving it to their mate. Knife amnesty bins also help the police to gauge the amount of knives being carried in their area, and the types of knives.
Don’t ignore the knife crime problem. It sounds dramatic, but the harsh reality is that ignorance can cost a life.
A response to Constable Chaos’ blog post on Football Policing
Last week Twitter’s laughing policeman, Constable Chaos posted his own impressions on his day of football policing Football Crazy . I have reblogged this below. While I can’t dispute what he says, because I wasn’t with him, his experience doesn’t reflect mine, nor the majority of police officers I speak to and who police football matches.
Most of his gripes seem to relate more to the fact he had his rest day cancelled, had to get up early to provide mutual aid, ad by virtue of the fact he was providing mutual aid he wasn’t familiar with the town, and he didn’t get a very clear briefing from the Match Command. My response to that is, I feel sympathy for cops who are now facing this on a daily basis in all levels of their duty, but that is not the football fans’ fault. As the Twitter hash tag says #cutshaveconsequences
In reality, hundreds of thousands of fans travel across the country every week to watch their team play football. And these hundreds of thousands of fans are policed by a handful of police officers, compared to the number of police required most Friday and Saturday nights in towns up and down the country.
In a recent case in which I was involved, the UK Football Policing Unit provided a statement in an attempt to show how football fans are hooligans. The statement covered a 6 week period and included all Premier League and Football League games, as well as a cup game at Wembley. In those 6 weeks there had been 8 incidents of disorder. Sounds bad? More than 1 incident a week? But when cross examined, the Director of the UK Football Policing Unit had to accept that during those 6 weeks there would have been 260 sets of travelling fans, home and away, and that would have accounted for more than a million individuals travelling to a football match. The 8 incidents don’t quite sound so bad now, do they? If I was to ask just one large Metropolitan force how many incidents of disorder they had recorded on a pay day Friday, I’m guessing that the answer would be a lot more than 8.
The problem is not the travelling football fans, it’s the way they are treated by the media, and the Government ( which then trickles down to the police in their policy implementation). Most football matches are either totally police free or have a very low police presence. I attended a match a couple of weeks ago, one police serial (12 officers), 2 football spotters from each club, and a football intelligence officer and match commander were the only police in attendance. None of those officers lost their rest day, or were on mutual aid, and they managed to police over 10000 fans, without a single incidence of trouble. But that doesn’t make good media coverage.
At a match at the end of last season, fans ran on the pitch in celebration of the result. They were not fighting, or being disorderly, but actually doing the same as the much celebrated England fans in 1966. The next day the newspaper reports had headlines such as ‘Return to the Dark Days of Football’. I can just imagine the first draft of the report saying ‘jubilant fans celebrate their club’s success’ and the Editor deciding that the headline didn’t have enough punch.. ‘I know…. Let’s get the Dark Days of Football headline out again, that always sells papers’.
The Reading Chronicle was forced to apologise to Reading fans last year. It published an article which indicated that Reading fans were thugs and that football required policing, otherwise the hooliganism of the 1980s would return. So weak was the story, that they had to use an actor for the staged photo of a person in a Reading FC shirt, covering their face and holding a stick. It has to be questioned why the newspaper bothered to run the front page article in the first place as it wasn’t in relation to any football events in Reading, but why publish the truth when fiction sells more papers.
A ‘risk supporter’ is a term that was created by ACPO many years ago, and has stuck ever since. Its current definition is ‘A person, known or not, who can be regarded as posing a possible risk to public order or anti-social behaviour, whether planned or spontaneous, at or in connection with a football event.’ In reality this means that anyone travelling in a large group, anyone singing football songs, or anyone drinking in a pub before the match can easily fall into that description, despite the fact they never have been involved in any football related disorder and probably never will be. Compare this with the pay day Friday in town, by 11pm at least half of those in town will fall into the risk category if there was a ‘risk reveller’ category. The person who is staggering in the street, the couple having a drunken argument, the usual jostling in the kebab shop queue, the lad denied access to a club or bar who swears at the doorman, and the Hen Do group singing a bad rendition of Beyoncé on the top of the night bus. Giving football fans the title of risk supporter is nothing more than scaremongering.. It makes the public and the courts think that these fans must be ‘hooligans’ as otherwise they wouldn’t be called ‘risk’.
Football policing is a self perpetuating way for the police forces to make money from the football clubs, justify putting more cops on the beat on a Saturday or Sunday, and provide figures to the Home Office every year to justify the existence of police football units. In some areas the football stadium is way out of town, on a leisure park. The Kassam Stadium in Oxford is a good example of this. Thames Valley Police wanted to charge Oxford FC for extra policing resources to patrol the leisure park car park. This wasn’t due to football fans breaking into the cars, as they were all in the football stadium watching the football, but it did mean that TVP could provide a greater police presence for the family taking the kids to Frankie and Benny’s on a Saturday afternoon.
If the briefing by the Match Commander was poor, then that should be taken up with the Force. The match briefings I have been to, and I have been to many, do differ between forces, but should all include the main explanations of the main pubs which will take the fans, whether they are home or away, the areas the serials are tasked to cover, the incident number on which every incident from that day’s policing should be recorded, and whether there is any intelligence about potential disorder. I have experience of poor match briefings which have resulted in the police marching a group of, so called, Away risk supporters to a pub, and then refusing to let them leave despite the fact it was the designated Home supporters pub. Yes, someone screwed up there, but it wasn’t the football fans. And despite the fact the two groups of ‘risk’ were forced to stay in the same pub, and alcohol was being served, there was no trouble.
We all have different match day experiences, clearly Chaos had a chaotic experience, but that’s not the fault of the football fans, and they shouldn’t be vilified for choosing a game which ignites the passions of billions of people around the World in a way that no other sport can.
Believe the Fat Cat Lawyer spin if you want, but this is the alternative version of why Criminal lawyers are fighting for Legal Aid
Yesterday I threatened to handcuff myself to a bench in the Magistrates Court until my case was dealt with. Its the second time in the last few months that I have done so. It sounds dramatic, but drastic times call for drastic measures. I actually meant it, and I assume on both occasions I have given the impression that I meant it as the court then found a way to deal with my case!
The courts, Crown Prosecution Service, Police, Probation and defence are all at breaking point, but that does not justify the attitude that I am seeing all too much these days. The ‘well that’s the way it is’ attitude when I complain about the fact that a client who is a youth has been in custody for 5 months and the CPS still haven’t prepared the charges, or a client with mental health issues (who the court insisted entered a plea on the first occasion) has had his trial adjourned three times, or a young mother (at risk of losing her children, job and home if she goes to prison) has attended court five times waiting for papers on her case only to find that the police recommended that the case be discontinued four months ago.
Last night someone described me as a ‘bully lawyer’, that may be so, but I also like to think that I care. I appreciate the “well that’s just the way it is” damage that is done to my clients and their families with the constant delays. I appreciate how it feels to be treated by the criminal justice system as though you don’t exist, whether you are a defendant, witness or victim.
When the legal aid cuts were first mooted, I wrote a piece about the fact I felt very uncomfortable with striking as I did not want to leave a client facing court without representation. However, I have changed my mind. The damage I imagined would be done by the Ministry of Justice legal aid cuts is actually much worse. The latest announcement of another 8.75% cuts to legal aid rates, giving firms only 3 weeks notice of the cuts, will mean that if the criminal legal profession does not act now, there will be no criminal legal profession in 4 years time, and then every defendant who cannot afford a private lawyer will be facing court without representation.
Obviously the Government spin goes into overdrive as soon as any legal aid cuts are mentioned. The latest cuts announcement was accompanied by media reports about hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money being spent on trials, with the articles cleverly worded to make it seem as though that was all defence fees, when in fact it was the whole trial cost, so included the Prosecution costs, jury costs, court costs and defence fees. But that wouldn’t make such a good defence lawyer bashing headline so why ruin a good story with the truth.
If I had £1 for every time someone has said to me recently “well you will just have to find another type of law to practice” I could handsomely supplement the legal aid cuts. But the reality is that I don’t want to do anything else, and if all criminal lawyers take that advice, there will be no justice. It’s not just about justice for the defendant. What about the victims and witnesses who, if there are no criminal lawyers, will be questioned in court by the person that have accused of committing a crime. What about the jury who will have the very unenviable task of having to determine a person’s guilt or innocence based on the case run by the defendant, with all the confusions and emotions of the defendant thrown into the mix. What about the defendant with mental health problems or youth who are expected to be able to understand the case papers and chase the Crown Prosecution Service for the missing papers. Who is going to raise the valid legal arguments which may make or break a case?
The Ministry of Justice will have you believe that the wealthy defendants will still be represented by good lawyers as they will pay privately, and that all others can be picked up by the pro bono system. This is utter nonsense and just shows how out of touch the Ministry of Justice is with the current criminal justice system. All of the points I have raised above still apply.
*Does that mean that a victim of a violent assault and robbery has to hope the person charged with attacking them is wealthy as that way a lawyer will cross examine them in court. Perhaps we need to have stickers made for our clothing, ‘Please only assault and rob me if you are wealthy’!
*Jurors will have to hope that their defendant can afford a lawyer as that way they will only have to take the obligatory 2 weeks off of work for jury service, but if they are unlucky enough to get an indigent defendant case, they may be looking at four weeks off of work due to the extra time it takes for an unrepresented defendant to deliver his or her case.
*The recently qualified lawyer who works in Mergers and Acquisitions, who works 60 hours a week, and whose employer doesn’t allow them to turn their work phone off, and who has been given the case of a person with mental health difficulties as part of the pro bono package isn’t going to sit in an interview room in Hull with the client for hours trying to get instructions, while at the same time trying to stop them from self harming while sitting at the table. “Oh sorry love, I know you are going to try and cut yourself with that pen as soon as I leave the room, but I really need to take this call from Hong Kong.”
Yes, as defence lawyers we have a bad rep, we are known as Fat Cats, we often don’t help ourselves by appearing in public wearing wigs and gowns – thinking we are making ourselves identifiable, but in reality coming across as totally detached from normal life. But most of the lawyers I deal with day after day are not like that. I spend my time with the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, confused, and scared. I don’t walk around with designer handbags and spend my time at garden parties, but I do..
*answer my phone at 3am to a scared client and receive no money for it;
*work all night to try and ensure that the legal argument the judge has demanded is in front of him at 9am despite the fact I won’t get paid for that work as it is classed as part of case preparation;
*regularly interrupt a family dinner to take a call from a junior colleague in the police station asking advice about a client they are representing. That is a call I don’t get paid for;
*travel 10 hours round trip to visit a client in prison on remand. I get a low fixed fee for the prison visit so long as I can prove it was ‘essential’ (and the Legal Aid Authority puts a lot of hard work into trying to say that I made a 10 hour trip to sit in a tiny room with a client for the fun of it). But I don’t get paid for the 6 hours travel time or the 1 hour waiting to get into the prison. If the prison is out in The Sticks I have to get a taxi from the station, usually at a vastly inflated rate as the taxi firms know there is no other way to get to the prison, and I then have to wait months for my travel expenses (in excess of £100 per trip) to be paid back to me.
*get up at 4:30 and travel half way across the country to get to an obscure court for 9am, only to be told that the case is being adjourned because witnesses have not been warned for the trial. For that wasted day I will receive my travel expenses only;
*sit in a small room with some thoroughly unpleasant clients persuading them that they should plead guilty so that the young victim does not have to face the fear of coming to court;
*have to view nasty photos and watch hours of footage of crimes and witness accounts which would most definitely come with a warning if they were in a fictional film. I can’t talk about this to this anyone, and get no offer of help from the Ministry of Justice to deal with this;
*occasionally find I am on the receiving end of verbal abuse by victims and their families due to the fact I am representing a certain client. I never make a complaint about this, I just get on with the job;
*have to protect my family from repercussions from the media and public for some of the clients I represent. I never make a complaint about this, I just get on with the job.
I’m not special, I’m just a criminal lawyer, trying to keep this profession alive, to encourage the junior lawyers to stay in the criminal system. It is about justice, but with that does flow the fact that even criminal lawyers have to make enough to pay their rent, and if the Government’s current reductions mean that those lawyers won’t be able to pay their rent they will go elsewhere and find work that does pay their rent, which brings me back to the justice issue again..
June 2015 Travel Restrictions on Anyone on Football Banning Order and the Power Struggle of the UK Football Policing Unit
Once again, its coming up to time when football fans in England who are on a football banning order are placed under a restriction of their liberty for no other reason than the National team are playing overseas.
There are two matches coming up, the Ireland v England friendly match on 7th June 2015 and the Euro 2016 qualifier Slovenia v England on 14th June 2015. What this means for fans on a football banning order is that they have to hand in their passports to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015, and also have to report to their designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June 2015. Just when that reporting period ends, the next one starts. Fans have to hand in their passports to the police on 9th or 10th June and they can’t be collected until after the match on 14th June 2015.
For many fans, unless they have plans to travel between the 2nd and 15th June 2015, it is probably an easier deal to just leave their passports at the police station until after the 15th June. However, this is a huge restriction on their liberty.
An even bigger restriction on a fan’s personal life and freedom of movement is the reporting restriction on 7th June 2015. The reason the UK Football Policing Unit has put these restrictions in place is because it is possible to travel to Ireland on a driving licence, and the legislation does not permit the UKFPU to require a fan to hand in their driving licence. But let’s face it, fans who are on the police radar will be spotted at the airport or port anyway as they are well known to the football officers, who will be loitering around at all major airports and ferry terminals.
It is questionable whether this isn’t just the UK Football Policing Unit asserting its authority. An authority which has always kept itself below the radar. As a lawyer dealing with football fan cases, it has become increasingly difficult to deal with the UKFPU. It will not engage in communications about fans’ bans, and rarely responds to queries. So why has it suddenly decided to poke its head above the parapet. Call me a cynic but suddenly articles written by the UKFPU are being published in the media, and the newspapers are being fed stories which are are being printed to try and persuade the public that football hooliganism is on the increase and that if we are not careful it will go back to the ‘Dark Days’. This is nothing more than UKFPU spin, the Home Office statistics for the past few years have shown that incidents of football violence are low, compare that to incidents of violence on a Friday and Saturday night in the town centers around England.
It’s a shame that the UKFPU doesn’t think about the impact its reporting restrictions are having on those fans who work on Sundays, who usually take their kids swimming on Sunday morning, or who had plans to take the family away for the weekend. And the reality is that, in certain areas of the country a fan can sign on just after 10am and still catch a flight to Dublin in time for kick off, or shortly after. This reporting restriction will achieve nothing in relation to those fans (if there are indeed any) who are determined to go to Ireland and cause trouble, but will no doubt give the UKFPU some extra brownie points when it is applying to the Government for its next round of funding so that its staff can travel around the World promoting the UKFPU. Why let the right of movement of hardworking fans get in the way of that?
Just to clarify, if you are on a football banning order, you must hand in your passport to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015 and report to your designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June. You can collect your passport on 8th June 2015, but you must hand it in on the 9th or 10th June 2015 for the next control period, and cannot collect until 15th June 2015.
If you do not see the football officer when you hand in your passport or you report, always make sure you get a receipt to say that you have attended, even if it is just a handwritten note signed by the officer you have spoken to, and the time and date.
Hitting the Real Life Murder Scene & Trying to Keep the Client From Death Row
My mum had high hopes for me as a lawyer, but it turns out, I only like the dirty gritty edgy stuff that brings me into contact with the worse crimes that you can imagine. The kid found in a suitcase in the canal, the torture of a gang member and anyone who just happened to be a member of their family, the tourist abducted from the beach during a night time stroll and buried alive. Yet I also see those who are accused of the crimes, the lives they have lived, and still live, and I also have at the forefront of my mind the fact that they might, just might, be innocent. I’m a defense lawyer trying to keep those charged with the most heinous crimes from Death Row.
Standing in a street which was the scene of a drive by shooting two days earlier, I count the number of bullet holes in the building opposite, and then notice that the cars in the neighboring yards are also riddled with bullet holes and that the 2 inch thick metal fence posts didn’t fare a lot better. Meanwhile cars with blackened windows cruise past very slowly, and I’m conscious that if the window rolls down and there is an automatic weapon on the other side, those holes aren’t just going to be in a fence post and house brick.
So why am I here? It’s a crime scene and my client is charged with murder, it’s as simple as that. I want to look at the crime scene, get a feel for it myself, speak to the neighbors – if any will speak to me – I’m a middle aged white woman in a predominantly black poor neighborhood. Some call it the ghetto, but its not, there are good, hard working decent people living here, they would like to move but are unable to, they are in hock to the bank for their houses and no one is going to buy a house from them with the added selling pitch of MP5 bullet holes. Instead they have to hope that their son coming home from school at 5pm isn’t the next innocent victim of gang turf wars that have spilled over to these streets in recent years.
I don’t have the back up that the cops have when they visit these areas, I don’t have a firearm, or a radio to call for back up. To advertise the fact that I’m not a cop, I often show a lot more flesh than I usually think appropriate for a defense lawyer at work, tight cropped jeans so that its clear I don’t have a firearm strapped to my legs, bare hips and small of my back, showing there is nothing concealed in my waistband, and a Public Defender tag around my neck. It’s as good as a sign on my head “Yes I know I’m way out of my depth on these streets but I’m not a cop or looking to buy drugs”. In reality my best asset is my English accent, its very rare for a person not to respond to me when I ask to speak to them.. there is always that curiosity, it might come in the form of “I love your accent, where are you from?” or “hey Bitch where you from, that ain’t no Hood accent”. To me it doesn’t matter so long as it gets people talking, as that what I’m there to do. Many of the people in these streets will have refused to speak to the police, or to provide statements, but they may be prepared to talk to me. A street of 20 houses, at least 10 of them hit by stray gunfire, and when the police attended, no one heard a thing, apparently they were all asleep. I can usually find at least one or two who were not quite so asleep after all, and then there is always the local gossip who may actually hold a fair amount of truth.
I take photos of the scene on my iPhone, locations and lighting, where cars would have likely been parked, lines of sight for the neighboring and opposite houses. I’m not a crime scene investigator, but I have a good eye for a crime scene and will pass all my information back to the defense investigators and tell them what I want them to look for, what reconstructions I want. If it was a night time shooting then I’m sorry but I need an investigator to go back at night time. A day time photo or an ariel shot from Google Earth isn’t going to cut it with me.
I will often go back with the investigators to show them what I want. In the past I’ve borrowed cars to carry out reconstructions using the exact same car the police were sitting in to show that they could not have seen what they say they saw from inside the vehicle. I’ve asked cops to interrupt their lunch to get down on their knees in the middle of the diner and pull a weapon to show me whether it can be done the way my client has said it happened, and I’ve visited snitches in jail to tell them that so long as they keep out of my client’s way they should be ok as I’ve told my client that if the snitch dies, they too are going to face the same grim reaper that they have tattooed on their arm!
I am sure many of you are thinking that this is the stuff of Hollywood and doesn’t happen in real life, and that’s right, many lawyers don’t do anything more than meet their client at court and speak to them occasionally on the phone. But that’s not me, I need to get into the mind of my client and their life, and because of this I have ensured that most of my clients don’t go to Death Row and with those who do I can say I have tried.
Next stop is the local liquor store as these are often the focal point for these neighborhoods. As I walk up to the liquor store with its blacked out windows I’m never quite sure what to expect inside, but it is the usual, the clerk and all the alcohol behind bulletproof glass, money passed through a small gap where the glass meets the counter, a big metal pull out tray under the counter where the alcohol is delivered after payment is made. The only stuff on show are a few cans of coke in a side fridge. I grab a coke and join the queue, which parts for me to go to the front. I’m not from round here, they want to know why I’m there and possibly get me out as soon as possible. My problem is that I don’t want to go first, I want to talk to the clerk when he’s on his own. As soon as I walked into this store I realized that my client wouldn’t have walked into this store to jack it, the bullet proof glass, with American Rifle Association stickers all over it, gave it away that it’s not quite an easy target, so the other option is that he or those with him, were in here to buy a firearm. I explain to the clerk who I am and tell him that I am confused as to why my client went into the store that evening as surveillance footage shows that he didn’t exit with any liquor, was it perhaps that they card everyone, and my client didn’t have ID? The clerk completely ignores me.. oh well that’s a bust then. Two guys behind me snigger as though they can’t believe I am naïve enough to think that this liquor store cards all its customers. As I walk past them I mutter “or is it that he wanted something else that went in his waistband?”
By the time I exit the liquor store there are kids circling on bikes “hey lady, you been asking questions in my neighborhood?” It’s amazing how a 12 year old kid can create such an intimidating atmosphere, but my clients over the years have taught me ….don’t back down, don’t show a sign of weakness, you might still get shot or beaten but its less likely ..jeez thanks. So I don’t back down I walk up to the kids, I hand them all one of my cards, and they let me walk off. As I drive out of the parking lot, one of them circles up to my car, and gives me a name…it might come to nothing or it might be the breakthrough in my case. My client’s life might actually be saved by a 12 year old riding a bike!