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ATTEMPT TO TAKE PYRO INTO A PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY FOOTBALL MATCH AND ITS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT SOMEONE ELSE WILL BE IN YOUR SEAT FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON!

 

SEEN PYRO BEING USED AT A FOOTBALL MATCH? THINK IT LOOKS FUN?

 

There is no doubt about it, the use of pyro to some fans is exciting. Photos of smoke bombs and flares being used at European matches give the impression of a colourful and high adrenaline crowd of fans.

The pre-season excitement is kicking off, especially for fans who get the chance to attend stadiums and play teams they would not normally play. A Pre-season friendly is a ‘regulated’ football match and the law applies just as much for pre-season friendlies as it does for the main season matches. As far as policing is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether it is a friendly or a competitive match, the policing strategies are the same, and the risks that the fans face if they decide to take pyro to a friendly game are just as serious.

Whether or not the use of smoke grenades (or plumber’s smoke tabs), flares and fireworks gives the game a better atmosphere, they are banned from English football, and without a doubt the courts do not see that same colourful, high adrenaline atmosphere. The starting point for a court considering the sentence for someone who has attempted to enter a stadium with pyro is 3 months in prison. In many cases it is very difficult to persuade the courts to come down from this 3 month figure. Add onto this the fact that it is highly likely that a court will impose a football banning order for at least 3 years (as this is the minimum that a court can impose) and may go as high as 10 years, and a fan’s days of watching football anywhere but in their living room for at least the next 3 years are over. The prison record doesn’t look good to any employer, and any chance of coaching or refereeing even a local kids league is given the Red Card due to the fact the offence of possession of the smoke grenade and the prison sentence and the football banning order will all appear on a Criminal Records Bureau (now Banning and Disbarring Service) check.

Look again at the wording in italics above, a fan doesn’t have to let off a flare in the stadium to fall foul of the law, mere possession on entry is sufficient. The law doesn’t distinguish between smoke grenades, flares and fireworks, they are all treated with the same severity. Nor does it distinguish between the possession and letting off the pyro.

As a lawyer representing football fans, I have concerns about all fans being arrested for pyro possession and use but in particular the criminalisation of youths. Whether or not I agree with the law as it stands, until Parliament changes it, possession of pyro remains an offence. I have had queries from fans who have found that not only have they been banned, but their family members also banned. As a football club is a private entity they can do what they want, so if they decide to ban a whole family they can do so.  Chelsea FC has banned fans for 10 years for the use of a smoke bomb at an away match, this was in addition to the 3 year football banning order the court imposed, and Crystal Palace FC wanted to ban a fan for 2 years despite the fact the court had not imposed a football banning order, and this was relating to use of a firecracker on the way to the stadium, not even in sight of the stadium, but the fan was wearing CPFC colours at the time he was seen letting off the firecracker.

Harsh as this sounds, in most cases there is very little I am able to do to persuade a Club to budge on their decision, and in my experience the Football League Clubs take a stronger approach on this than Premier League Clubs.  One of the main reasons that the Club will impose a harsh penalty on the fan is that too much use of pryo and the Club will lose its away allocation or have it severely restricted, and this means that the Club may lose revenue due to the actions of a few fans.  This is particularly so at Cup games where the lower Football League clubs get the opportunity to play higher Football League or even Premier League clubs, and receive the Gate fees. Hence the consequences of 2 minutes of smoke or colored flame can be very wide reaching for both the Club and other fans. 

Particularly if you are a parent or carer for a youth who attends football matches, please pass the message to them that pyro is illegal and the inside of a cell in a youth offending institution could be exactly where they are heading if caught with pyro…and that it not scaremongering or exaggeration…its reality.

For more information on the laws on pyro and other laws relating specifically to football see this leaflet  Are you a footie fan? Do you know there are special laws relating to you? which I have prepared to alert fans, particularly young fans, to the law which affects them but which they are often don’t know about, as it doesn’t apply to any other sports events.

 

 

Travelling to Spain v England? Do you know what to do if the police detain you at the airport?

Despite the fact there are very few British fans involved in trouble at overseas football matches, Sections 21A,B & C of the Football Supporters Act 1989 are very draconian and may permit a police officer to detain an innocent fan and hold them until after their flight has departed. In other words, stopping an innocent fan from attending overseas matches, despite the fact they have paid for the plane ticket, accommodation, and tickets to the matches.

So what does the law really say on this?

A police officer in uniform, not in civvies, may detain a British football fan for 4 hours ( or 6 with the approval of an Inspector or above) at an airport or port, but at the time of the detention they must have reasonable grounds to suspect the fan has caused or contributed to violence or disorder previously. This means the Police officer cannot just detain a fan they don’t like the look of.

Any detention without this reasonable suspicion will be unlawful detention. The ‘gut feeling’ of the officer that the fan may commit disorder in the future is not enough there has to be something indicating the fan has been involved in disorder in the past.

If there is something in the past, the officer must also have a reasonable suspicion that the fan is likely to be involved in disorder at a football match in the future. If the officer holds both of these suspicions he can issue a notice requiring the fan to attend the Magistrates Court within 24 hours, they can also take away the fans passport until they get to court.

If the officer believes that the fan will not turn up at court, for example by saying “well I am going to get on the flight anyway”, they can arrest the fan and detain them for up to 24 hours until they are taken to court.

These measures don’t require a lot of police information or intelligence to justify a ‘reasonable suspicion’. A football intelligence officer can pretty much sit in Starbucks at the airport sipping their hot chocolate and watching social media on their iPhone. Tweets such as “England fans ready to cause havoc” alongside a group of fans in the airport holding up their pint glasses, with a pin showing their location is probably all a keen football intelligence officer will need for that ‘reasonable suspicion’.

It shouldn’t be the case that fans face such gross restrictions of their freedom of movement and expression, but sadly successive Governments seem to think that football fans don’t have the same rights as the rest of society, and until the fans start to campaign against these harsh measures they won’t change. In the meantime, if you are travelling to the International Friendlies, be careful with your social media use.

I prepared a leaflet for the World Cup, but the same applies to all International matches. Print off my guide  to your rights, to fold and keep in your passport.

Rights of fans travelling to World Cup leaflet

Hand held smoke bombs…getting a lot more than you paid for!

This is an updated version of the blog piece I wrote last week, so if you read it last week and found it thoroughly enjoyable feel free to read it again! For the other 99.99% of readers who have no intention of reading it again, please take time to read the following two paragraphs.

Due to my work representing football fans I have let off a lot of smoke bombs and flares in my time, I try to get hold of the same version that my client released so that I can describe to the magistrates exactly what happens when it is let off. My usual comment on smoke bombs is ‘ you crack the seal and smoke comes out, it doesn’t get hot, there is no flame and it doesn’t have to be lit by a match or lighter’. As the sentencing guidance for having possession of a smoke bomb or flare is the same (3 months in prison, which the Home Office has encouraged courts to order in full), I try to show the court the difference between a smoke bomb, and a flare. There is no doubt that most people consider that a flare that can burn at over 1000 degrees and has an open flame is more dangerous in a crowd environment than a smoke bomb.

Last week I came across a hand held smoke bomb, purchased on the internet, which is a long tube rather than a tin. It is the same as a smoke bomb in the amount of smoke that it gives off, but after the smoke finished it burned like a flare for over 30 seconds. There was nothing on the packaging warning about the the flame. My instant concern was that it is the type of thing a fan would set off and kick or roll down the stand – as is common practice with smoke bombs to create the atmosphere around the stand. If this hand held smoke bomb is kicked down the stands it will end up as a flame at someone’s seat or feet. These handhelds are cheaper than the tin variety of smoke bombs and so probably seem more attractive to fans, and I am sure that as they are a tube they are easier to hide under clothing, but please think about the consequences. Most fans I represent who are charged with possession of a smoke bomb are not risk fans, not known to the police, they are out for a bit of fun. Trust me, then end result of setting one of these off is highly unlikely to be fun

Over zealous celebrating at the match this weekend may make you an armchair spectator for the next 3 years.

I’m sure many fans read my blogs and think I’m either patronising fans or doing the police’s job, but in reality I’m neither…I’m the one who travels up and down the country representing fans who are facing criminal charges and football banning orders. Don’t get me wrong… I love my job, but I often wish I didn’t have to do it, especially when I am representing fans who have acted in a moment of madness, due to excitement or jubilation at a result and who are facing the next three years without being able to watch their team play live.

I’m picking on Wolves fans this week as they are part of my pyro amnesty bin trial at Sixfields Stadium. Next week I’ll be picking on Oxford United and Northampton Town fans.

Seeing this article earlier made me think about the consequences that a 1 minute jog onto the pitch, or the cracking open of a smoke bomb, or lighting of a flare can have to the next three to five years. Because that’s the length of a football banning order. In addition the Home Office message to courts is to order the strictest sentence they can for possession of pyro in the stadium….that’s three months inside a prison cell. http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2014/04/25/wolves-vow-to-find-and-ban-pitch-invaders/

Don’t for one minute think that the offence has to be a serious one for a fan to get a ban. Simple disorder such as a bit of pushing and shoving, pitch invasion or even being drunk in a stadium, all attract football banning orders. The minimum length of ban a court can impose is three years. On top of that many clubs are now issuing even longer club bans on fans who are not convicted of any offence.

So unless you want to watch your team only from the comfort of your living room for the next three years, oh and you also want to have to hand your passport in at the police station every time England or your team play an overseas match, please don’t take pyro into the stadium or invade the pitch while the game is in play this weekend.

As part of the pyro amnesty bin trial running at Sixfields in conjunction with Northants Police, there will be pyro amnesty bins outside both the Home and Away entrances. They are not monitored by CCTV or the police and the contents will not be fingerprinted or any other methods used to identify who put the item in the bin. http://wp.me/p2vym0-7G

If you find yourselves at Sixfields with pyro ( or anything else which you know is illegal or banned in a stadium) please use the bins. That way you will get to see your team lift the trophy next week, and attend the Championship games next season. If you don’t use the bins and get caught in the ground with pyro or banned items, the only thing you are likely to see is a prison cell in the short term and the match in widescreen for the next three years!

So..if you’ve anything dodgy, do yourself a favour and dump it. And then hopefully I will never be writing your name on my court papers.

‘The “Y” Word’ Campaign is misguided and wrong – the Kick it Out debate that was not really a debate.

Last night in Manchester, I attended the Kick It Out debate on ‘The ”Y” Word’ which was less of a debate and more of a discussion by the panel. I came away feeling disappointed that there had not been a full debate and that the audience participation had been kept to a minimum. I think the main problem was that although this had been advertised as a debate on ‘The “Y” Word’ it actually wasn’t really intended to be, it was just as much a promotion of the exhibition Four Four Jew. That is probably where my disappointment lies, I feel I was misled.

Ivan Cohen and David Conn both spoke very passionately about the fact that this should not be a debate on ‘The “Y” Word’ and this is not the issue. The issue is anti-semitism, and it is anti-semitism which should be tackled. I couldn’t agree more. It seems to me that ‘The “Y”Word’ is a phrase coined by David and Ivor Baddiel to promote their video, and from this a campaign has been created. Sadly that campaign is as misguided, as their video is legally incorrect. But I doubt that the Baddiel brothers are really bothered by the fact that they may have been the cause of three men being arrested and charged with a racially aggravated public order offence and all the associated bad publicity that they received, after all when you are in TV and media, no publicity is bad publicity. It was mooted that the Baddiel’s will be producing a second version of the video, let us hope more innocent people don’t end up in the police station with their fingerprints and DNA being held on file forever due to another misguided and inaccurate campaign.

I would estimate that at least two thirds of last night’s audience were jewish or of jewish descent, and no-one spoke up in agreement with the view of Anthony Clavane that the use of the word “Yid’ caused them offence or was a problem. It seemed he was in a minority, and sadly he seemed to be of the opinion that if he felt offended by the use of a word then it should no longer be used. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to enter the debate as there was not enough time, however, had I been able to, I would have commented that I find it offensive if people refer to me as Fat, but that doesn’t mean I want the word banned, freedom of speech is far too important for that. I am not a historian, but I am aware that over history Jewish people have referred to themselves as Yids.

Anthony Clavane also made the point that I have heard David Baddiel make previously, that it is the fact that Spurs fans call themselves ‘Yid Army” that causes anti-semitism in opposing fans. Ivan Cohen equated that argument to saying that women in short skirts are asking to be raped. I totally agree with Ivan on this point, otherwise we could blame black people for being black as that causes others to abuse them. It’s a nonsense, and quite frankly if that is the best argument that can be raised about the use of “Yid” it shows that their campaign is wrong.

Sadly Alex Golberg was not able to add much to the ‘debate’. Although he was clearly wearing an FA hat, he did not elaborate on why the FA suddenly felt the need to issue the statement in Autumn 2013 which started the slippery slope to these Spurs fans being arrested and other fans being issued with warning notices (which will be held on police intelligence logs). He did promote the fact that the FA had taken a stance in the Anelka case, but unfortunately he wasn’t fully briefed on the outcome and had to be corrected by David Conn and a member of the audience, which was a shame as it would have been good to hear the FA views on this. Likewise it would have been good to hear the FA stance on the use of Yid by both Spurs fans and opposing fans, since the CPS decided to discontinue the case on the basis that there was no offence. Anthony Clavane less than eloquently put it that the Spurs fans had been ‘Let Off’, perhaps he can put that in his next book which I am sure he will shamelessly plug as much as he plugged his latest book last night!

I didn’t attend the debate to hear from those members of the panel who are in the media eye and have ample opportunity to put their views across, I attended to hear from the public, from the Jewish community, from football fans. There were only 8 questions allowed from the floor in the two and a half hour session, and infact when a member of the audience asked that the “Y” Word debate be allowed to continue after the half time break, she was told that it was time to move on…there was an exhibition to promote!

Kick it Out stated at the end that they had no objections to holding a debate in London, and I welcome a debate providing the opportunity to properly engage, not just to be talked at by a few people. But the debate should not be about the coined phrase ‘The “Y” Word’ it should be about anti-semitism in football, something that the majority of the population considers to be wrong and offensive, and which is already illegal.

 

 

Why the Reading Chronicle demonisation of football fans affects more than football

Some of you may have seen my strongly worded tweets last week when the Reading Chronicle published it’s inflammatory, factually incorrect and misleading article suggesting that Reading FC fans (or at least a large contingent of them) are football hooligans and it is only due to the hard work of the police and the Reading FC management that it was all being kept under control. This was complimented by a staged photo of a person wearing a Reading FC shirt, a scarf wrapped around their face, carrying a piece of wood and looking ‘thuggish’.

Not only was the article poorly written and the journalist clearly hadn’t done his research as he seemed to be unaware of the Hillsborough developments over the past year, but it was also potentially very damaging to football fans.

Many of the inaccuracies in the article (and there are too many to mention) have already been addressed by other fans and journalists see Reading FC fan Jon Keen’s response http://thetilehurstend.sbnation.com/2014/3/20/5529246/tawdry-and-offensive-journalism-at-its-best and the Liverpool Echo’s article http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/reading-chronicle-issues-unreserved-apology-6861586

The suggestion that the reason there is no trouble at Reading FC is solely due to the police and Reading FC, is rubbish. It is suggested that the police have worked so well with the Club that police have not been required to police at many Reading matches. This shows a complete lack of awareness of football policing. The main thrust of football policing is identifying and managing risk supporters. The police charge a football club for all policing required inside the Ground and also on what is called ‘The Footprint’, the area surrounding the Ground where police identify that they need to be in attendance before, during and after the game.  In the case of Reading, the Footprint is not very large due to the location of the Madejski Stadium being away from the town and major transport hubs. if there is any suggestion that there will be risk supporters in attendance at a match the police will insist on having officers inside the ground and on The Footprint. The Footprint can be a bone of contention with Clubs as they often have to pay heavily for the policing outside of the ground even when the Club considers there is no need. Leeds United FC challenged this footprint charging by West Yorks Police a few years ago in the High Court http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jul/24/leeds-united-win-police-costs  I have spoken to Club Chairmen and Directors who often complain that effectively the Footprint is being used as an excuse to fund police overtime, and policing of the leisure parks and towns at a weekend.

The Reading Chronicle and Thames Valley Police have acknowledged that many of the Games were unpoliced (although I assume that the football intelligence officers and football spotters would have been in attendance still as they usually still attend a non-policed match). The significance of this is that the police football intelligence must have indicated that there would be no risk supporters at these matches and that all other fans are recognised as law abiding, and well behaved. Not the thugs and hooligans the Reading Chronicle would like them to be.

So why is the Reading Chronicle article likely to harm football fans if they are all law abiding?

Let’s face it much of the media and the general public have a dim view of football fans. The fact that an MP felt it appropriate to call football fans on a night out in Covent Garden, ‘Scum’ without checking his facts, shows the disrespect football fans face. The Met Police who were in attendance had no complaint about fan behaviour, and the trash that had been left behind by the fans was because the Borough removed most of the bins as part of its cost cutting measures.

The problem with the Reading Chronicle articles is that it can create ‘guilt by association’.  Employers in the local area may check the social media of potential employees, and a fan who writes a tweet or a Facebook post about their trip to Reading FC on Saturday may be seen by the potential employer as a bit of a risk, they may be a hooligan.  Cafés and bars in town may decide that they don’t want to serve a Latte to a fan incase they cause trouble. And so on…

If you think I am being sensationalist, consider this. I had a call a few weeks ago about a fan who had been arrested for drink driving.  He pleaded guilty, and when the Crown Prosecution Service explained the facts,  the first thing the court was told was that the driver was a football fan and a season ticket was found on him when he was arrested.  In actual fact he was not driving from a match, but had gone home after the match, not having had a drink at the match, had gone out that evening to a friend’s house where he had drunk alcohol and caught a taxi home. He was arrested the next day as he drove to work and unknown to him he was slightly over the legal alcohol limit. The first question the Magistrates asked was whether they could make a football banning order on him. The case was even adjourned off so that the Crown Prosecution Service could enquire with the police about making a football banning application. What should have been a simple drink driving sentencing matter of a fine and disqualification from driving turned into a complete fiasco and a waste of a great deal of tax payers money due to the fact the driver was a football fan. Fortunately, in that case the solicitor for the driver and the football intelligence officer both agreed that it was nonsense for the court to consider a football banning order , but it is evidence of the attitude towards football fans.

My non football fan friends could not understand why I was so upset by the Reading Chronicle article…hopefully this now explains why.

Going to the England Friendlies in Miami – Updated directions to the stadium

 

If you have read this blog previously, see this updated link to the directions on how to get to the Stadium as despite my initial info that the new stadium was going to be used, I have now had confirmation that the Sunlife Stadium in Miami Gardens is the correct stadium, so ignore my previous directions!  

 http://www.sunlifestadium.com/directions  Parking at the Stadium is usually charged and will likely be around $25.  Allow at least an hour to drive to the Stadium from South Beach or Downtown as traffic in Miami can be heavy even during the day.

The easiest route via bus from South Beach is a bus to Aventura Mall (either the 120 Beach Max Express or S route)  and then the 99 bus from outside the Aventura food court which will take you to the Sun Life Stadium.  http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/routes_schedule.asp?srv=WEEKDAY&dir=Westbound&rt=99  allow about 2 hours for the bus as traffic in Miami can be heavy.

You can buy a bus and rail day pass or an Easy Pass (which you can top up and works like a London Transport Oyster).  Passes can be purchased or topped up at various outlets around Miami Beach and Downtown – ask at your hotel for your nearest venue or see this list http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/easy-card-sales-outlets.asp#1

If traveling from Downtown, you can take the Metrorail to Martin Luther King Junior Station (green line towards Palmetto) and then catch the 27 bus http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/routes_schedule.asp?srv=WEEKDAY&dir=Northbound&rt=27  This Station is not in the greatest part of town so be careful with your belongings when waiting for the bus outside this station.

If you are taking a taxi, make sure you agree the price in advance it will probably be around $45-$55 either from Downtown or South Beach. Hotels will also arrange a transfer to the Stadium.

Miami is made up of many municipal areas includingMiami Dade (think CSI Miami and Dexter – although both are actually filmed mainly in California), Miami Beach (think Burn Notice – which is actually filmed in Miami), and City of Miami (think First 48).

If you are looking for somewhere to stay, I recommend Miami South Beach, its like its own Art Deco town on the edge of the beach, with bars, restaurants, clubs, shopping, and an amazing white sandy beach that runs for miles and warm ocean. It is easy to get to the rest of Miami from South Beach either by car or bus, although with the exception of going to the stadium there is probably no need to leave South Beach. The area that is known as Miami Beach is about 15 miles long, so if you want to be close to the hub of the action, make sure that you book accommodation in Miami South Beach and not just Miami Beach. The further North the accommodation on Miami Beach the cheaper it is, and while the beach runs all the way along there are very few shops, restaurants and bars North of 24th Street. So if you are looking to stay on South Beach the best location is between 5th and 24th Street (these streets run horizontal to the beach) and Collins Avenue and Alton Road (these run parallel to the beach, with Collins Avenue being the closest to the beach). Hotels on South Beach range from the super chic W Hotel to some fairly low end, low quality rooms, so its a good idea to check them out on Trip Advisor.

If you are looking for cheaper but decent accommodation, then many of the chain hotels such as the Marriott, Crown Plaza and Holiday Inn are downtown. The location is ok, but is fairly quiet in the evening as this area is mainly a business district. The closest to South Beach is the Marriott at Omni which is just across the causeway from South Beach. Anywhere is Brickell will be like a ghost town after about 9pm.

If you stay at the airport hotels and don’t have a car you will find it very difficult to get around, unless you go back to the airport every time and jump on the buses or Metrorail. There is also accommodation at Doral and Miami Springs, both are quite a way from the Stadium and quite a distance from the beach and you will need a car to get around from these areas.

If you have a few days to kill, look at renting a car and taking a trip to the Florida Keys. The 100 mile trip is well worth it, even just the road trip is beautiful, there is only one road in and out of the Keys and it joins all the keys (islands) together. Key West is the party town, and is full of NFL mums who spend most of the year baking cookies and doing the school run, but who come to Key West to drink in the streets, ride a scooter, wear T-shirts with rude slogans and dance on the table in Jimmy Buffet’s Margarita Bar. But if you can stand that, it is quite a quaint town which is the base for fishing and diving charters and all things involving the sea. If you don’t want to do the 100 mile trip, Key Largo is about an hour drive from Miami and has John Pennecamp National Park which is less than $10 to enter for a car with 4 passengers, and offers snorkeling, kayaking, boat trips, fishing and camping.

However, if you are looking for a 24 hour party trip, then you will not need to leave South Beach where the streets are at their busiest at around 4am and quietest around 7.30am. As Pitbull says “what happens in Miami…Never happened”!

SEEN PYRO BEING USED AT A FOOTBALL MATCH? THINK IT LOOKS FUN?

 ATTEMPT TO TAKE PYRO INTO A FOOTBALL MATCH AND THE NEXT THING YOU COULD BE SEEING IS THE INSIDE OF A PRISON CELL

There is no doubt about it, the use of pyro to some fans is exciting. Photos of smoke bombs and flares being used at European matches give the impression of a colourful and high adrenaline crowd of fans.

Whether or not the use of smoke grenades (or plumber’s smoke tabs), flares and fireworks gives the game a better atmosphere, they are banned from English football, and without a doubt the courts do not see that same colourful, high adrenaline atmosphere. The starting point for a court considering the sentence for someone who has attempted to enter a stadium with pyro is 3 months in prison. In many cases it is very difficult to persuade the courts to come down from this 3 month figure. Add onto this the fact that it is highly likely that a court will impose a football banning order for at least 3 years (as this is the minimum that a court can impose) and may go as high as 10 years, and a fan’s days of watching football anywhere but in their living room for at least the next 3 years are over. The prison record doesn’t look good to any employer, and any chance of coaching or refereeing even a local kids league is given the Red Card due to the fact the offence of possession of the smoke grenade and the prison sentence and the football banning order will all appear on a Criminal Records Bureau (now Banning and Disbarring Service) check.

Look again at the wording in italics above, a fan doesn’t have to let off a flare in the stadium to fall foul of the law, mere possession on entry is sufficient. The law doesn’t distinguish between smoke grenades, flares and fireworks, they are all treated with the same severity. Nor does it distinguish between the possession and letting off the pyro.

The situation for under 18s is even worse. Possession of a smoke grenade or flare in any public place is a criminal offence. Hence a fan who is under the age of 18 and who has a smoke bomb in their pocket as they walk through town or on the train on the way to a match is committing an offence. This places some youths in a very difficult position. Imagine the scenario, on the coach on the way to the match, the youth succumbs to peer pressure from a fellow fan to take a smoke grenade “come on, it will be fun, look you take the blue and I will take the red, its only 3 quid”. The youth then exits the coach and decides that the smoke grenade is not a good idea and approaches a steward or police officer to ask how to dispose of the smoke bomb. At that stage they are admitting to committing an offence, they are in a public place and have a smoke grenade in their possession! A 15 year old with no previous convictions, who has never been in trouble with the police before, suddenly finds themselves arrested, in a police cell and facing a criminal record. Even a fixed penalty notice or reprimand given in the police station will appear on their CRB check. With competition for university and jobs so competitive for youths, a CRB will probably means that this youth goes to the back of the queue. Oh and they will no doubt be banned from attending football matches, even if they do not end up with a football banning order issued by the courts as the matter was dealt with in the police station, the police share their arrest information with the football club so the club will issue their own ban.

As a lawyer representing football fans, I have concerns about all fans being arrested for pyro possession and use but in particular the criminalisation of youths. Whether or not I agree with the law as it stands, until Parliament changes it, possession of pyro remains an offence. For this reason I have worked with Northamptonshire Police to set up a trial of pyro amnesty bins outside the Sixfields Stadium at certain matches over April and May 2014. Northampton Town and Coventry City Football Clubs have given their full support for these bins, and it is hoped that this will not only prevent pyro being taken into or used in Sixfields, by home and away fans, but also will promote the fact that pyro is illegal at football matches.  This leaflet explains more.. Are you a footie fan? Do you know there are special laws relating to you?

The amnesty bins will be placed outside the turnstiles and will be highly visible, and will not be monitored by police of CCTV, nor will any pyro inside be checked for fingerprints or DNA. But anyone who is caught in possession of pyro inside the stadium will be arrested. With the pyro bins outside there will be no excuse for anyone to have pyro inside the stadium. Lets hope that these bins are a success and that it will help prevent this needless criminalisation and banning of fans.

Particularly if you are a parent or carer for a youth who attends football matches, please pass the message to them that pyro is illegal and the inside of a cell in a youth offending institution could be exactly where they are heading if caught with pyro…and that it not scaremongering or exaggeration…its reality.

Here is the leaflet advertising the trial Northamptonshire police pyro amnesty bin trial-3.   The amnesty bins will be in place at the Sixfields Stadium at the following matches:

  • 18th April 2014 – Coventry City v Swindon Town
  • 21st April 2014 – Northampton Town v Portsmouth
  • 26th April 2014 – Coventry City v Wolves
  • 3rd May2014 – NorthamptonTown v OxfordUnited

Any queries about the amnesty bin trial can be directed to me at gurdena@btinternet.com or via this blog,  or Pc Nick Price at nick.price@northants.pnn.police.uk

BANNED!

A football banning order affects much more than just watching Premier or League football on a Saturday afternoon

With the new football season in full swing, fans who are banned from attending home and away games of their team are asking exactly how far their ban extends.

Most fans who are under a football banning order are aware that they can’t go to watch their own League team or England, either home or away, and that they need to hand in their passport to the police whenever England are travelling overseas. Some fans are also subject to handing in their passport when a Champions League match is being played overseas. But many Banned fans ask me whether they can attend any football matches? In general, my answer is that if it is anything more than watching their local pub team play on a Sunday morning, or their son’s school team, then probably, No, they cannot!

The law in this area is very unclear, and is open to a mix of interpretations. A Football Banning Order prohibits a fan from attending a ‘Regulated Football Match’, and the definition of ‘Regulated Football Match’ is an Association match in which one or both teams represent a club which is a member of the Football League, the FA Premier League, the Football Conference League, the League of Wales, or represents a country or territory.

The Under 21s Development League (or Premier League as it seems to have been renamed to suit those making money out of the League) is becoming increasingly popular with fans, especially as for many it has identity with their own Club, is played in the same stadium and is a Cup competition. Unfortunately, the games, including the Cup qualifiers may be classed as Regulated Football Matches and fall under the ban. For the very reasons that many fans are taking an interest in the League, the bans will probably apply – the purpose of the ban is to prevent a fan from attending football stadiums and mixing with other home and away fans.

There is an argument that the ban not apply to teams which are not part of the Leagues mentioned above, and that if the Government intended to include all matches played, it would have said so in the legislation. Add to this the fact that previously the restrictions included all matches played at the home ground of a Club which is a member of one of these football leagues, but this was changed in 2004 to the above definition. In my view it could be argued that this change in definition means that the Government no longer intended for all games played in these grounds to be included. However, the problem faced by fans is that this will possibly be a legal argument that will not be accepted by a local magistrates court, and it is the local magistrates who will determine whether a Banned fan has breached their Football Banning Order. Clearly the other side of the argument which will be put forward by the State is that the Under 21 team has the same name as the Club and so ‘represents the Club’. It seems that the UK Football Policing Unit do not have the answer either, and football intelligence officers I have spoken to are also unclear as to whether these Under 21 games fall within the ambit of a football banning order.

Hence there is no easy answer to this question. A fan who wants to take the risk may end up trying to persuade a magistrates court of a legal argument, and will probably end up having to appeal to the High Court for the legal definition to be determined. Such appeals are lengthy and expensive and (with the proposed reduction in legal aid) legal costs are unlikely to be covered by legal aid. On the flip side, fans should not be prevented from attending these Under 21 games on the basis that they fear they may be prosecuted as the law is unclear.

And as for Women’s football, since the Olympics the Women are receiving attention like never before, and from my own personal opinion this is long overdue..but many of the women’s games (and definitely the women’s FA Cup) may also fall within the term ‘Regulated Football Match’ in a football banning order and so I’m afraid attendance to watch the women will have to wait until the end of a ban, unless the fan wants to run the risk of prosecution for breaching the ban.

So how can a Banned fan watch football? This depends on the wording of the individual banning order. All banning orders prevent attendance at ‘Regulated Football Matches’, but some go further and prevent attendance at pubs and bars when the Banned fan’s team is playing either home or away, and some bans go so far as to restrict a fan’s liberty so that they cannot even go into their town when their team is playing either home or away.

It sounds like common sense, but a Banned fan should read the wording of their banning order very carefully to see what exactly they are prevented from doing. The Courts do not accept ‘I did not know that my ban prevented me from doing that’ as a reason for breaching a ban, and it is possible that a fan breaching their ban to end up with a prison sentence.

A Banned fan can apply to have their ban lifted after they have served two thirds of the ban. This means going back to court to argue that the fan is no longer at risk of causing future disorder. If the Banned fan has not breached their ban and has not been involved in non-football related disorder, it is often worth asking the court to remove the ban. But sadly, in the meantime, a banned fan may have to become an armchair fan!

Brighton and Hove Albion v Crystal Palace – Hopefully a Better Fan Policing Experience

Last Friday ahead of the CPFC v BHAFC match I blogged about the restrictions in place and how they were unworkable.  If you didn’t read my blog, it is below, including a letter to the Met Police Commissioner and a statement about police powers of stop and search.

Hopefully this can be a more positive post.  I have heard from Sussex Police who have asked that I pass the word around.  They have no intentions of stopping fans and asking to check their tickets and ID, nor are they going to ask stewards to do the work for them.  Obviously the usual rules regarding stop and search still apply, so if they think that an offence has been committed, or there is a risk of an offence or disorder, they reserve the right under PACE to stop and search, and take a person’s details.  But they do not intend to engage in the draconian restrictions I refer to in my blog below.

I know some fans were treated like criminals on Friday, forced to provide their details before entering the stadium and held for so long that they missed kick off.  Hopefully this will not happen at the Amex.

Wishing you all a great match experience, no matter who you support, and if you see me on the train or around the pubs on Monday night touting the #SaveUkJustice epetition, please come and say ‘Hi’ and sign the petition.  Hopefully you will never need legal aid and the services of a lawyer, but you should ‘never say never’.  Infact any challenge to actions, such as the Met Police behavior last Friday, will probably not be possible unless we are successful in defeating the proposed amendments to legal aid and judicial review

The pre and post match info can be found here Seagulls Pre and Post match entertainment and travel.

If you want a handy guide to stop and search laws, download the stop and search app

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I know the restrictions placed on fans traveling to the Crystal Palace v Brighton and Hove Albion match today and the reverse on Monday have  caused concern among fans. I have received emails and tweets criticizing the ‘draconian’ measures, with questions such as ‘since when did ID cards come in through the back door?’ and I agree that they are draconian, and more importantly I believe they are unworkable.  They don’t take into account the lack of powers a steward has to stop a fan, it is certainly not clear why there could be the need to stop and check fans when they are traveling home, and I think they open both the police and the Clubs up to legal challenge.   See my letter to the Met Police Commissioner here Signed Letter To Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe on police restrictions on fans at the CPFC v BHAFC matches 10th May and 13th May 2013   The FSF have also produced a handy guide Statement-from-Lochlinn-Parker

However, the reality is that if the police do stop you and ask for your ID, if you want to go into the match you will probably have to hand it over.  You can guarantee that there will be a large police presence at both matches and the first sign of discontent among fans will bring a risk that dispersal notices will be considered.  The dispersal notice means an instant ban from the match, and probable arrest if you refuse to leave the area.  We can bring the legal challenges afterwards, but by then it will be too late you will have missed the match, and worse..

I will keep you updated with the progress of my letter and the Freedom of Information requests on the decision making behind these restrictions, in the hope we can prevent this happening again in the future and to other fans…. but I could do with a few days off over the Summer, so please, don’t get nicked for kicking off with the police or a steward…and definitely…no smoke bombs!

Can the Police retention of information on football fans breach a fan’s right to privacy?

Are you a football fan?

Have you been

  • given a section 27 dispersal notice?
  • filmed coming out of the train station?
  • stop searched on your way to a football match?

If yes,  your personal data is possibly being held by the Police.

What is meant by Personal Data?

Personal data can be anything which identifies you, so a record of your name, address, description, photographs or video footage all amount to personal data.

How is it held?

Most police force Football Policing Units keep an intelligence database on fans who are considered to be ‘risk fans’.  In other words, fans who are suspected of causing disorder.  In addition there is a nationwide database which contains information on public order and which contains details of some football fans activities, and the Police National Computer which contains information on all arrests, cautions, PNDs, convictions.  This data can be held for years, particularly as a football banning order can contain information going back up to 10 years.

S0 what does this mean for football fans?

If you have been involved in violence or disorder, or been cautioned or convicted of an offence then your data will definitely be held on the PNC and you cannot challenge this as you fall in to the same category as every other person who has been cautioned or convicted of an offence.  The PNC is in the process of being updated so that it can hold much more information, and I am sure that everyone reading this will accept that the Police should have a tool to assist in their investigations, and to prevent crime.

However, it is the retention of a football fan’s data merely due to the fact that they are a football fan which can be argued as being disproportionate.  If you are a fan who regularly attends football matches, have never been cautioned or convicted of an offence and have never been involved in disorder, is it fair that your data should be held by the Police?  For instance, some police forces have a practice of stopping fans as they come out of a convenient store, and asking them to stand against the wall so that they can be video’d to record what they are wearing.  Most are asked their names and addresses, and some are asked to roll up their sleeves to show any tattoos they may have.  The question then has to be, why is this data being taken in the first place as the fan has done nothing more than walk out of a shop with a can of soda in their hand, and secondly what happens to this recording – is it destroyed or retained?

There are many examples of retention of data by the Police on football fans, and too many to mention here, but I have heard  of cases where a fan has been ejected from a football ground by a steward, without police involvement, only to find they are then taken into a room in the football ground where the police have taken their details and fingerprints, but they have not been arrested or charged with any offence.  Fans given a section 27 dispersal notices as they exit a pub on their way to the ground, who claim they have done nothing wrong, and who have a season ticket in their hand, who then find that the Football Club have cancelled their season ticket, as the Police have informed the Club about the Section 27 dispersal notice.

While there are information sharing agreements between football clubs and police forces, and to a certain extent there is a need for such agreements, many fans do not know how much sharing of their information is actually going on. In many cases, a fan has no idea until they are served with an application for a football banning order and they note that incidents from five or six years ago are mentioned in the application.

Obtaining and retaining personal data in some cases can breach a persons right to privacy

Last week the Court of Appeal in the case of Catt  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/192.html ruled that the surveillance and retention of details of a persons attendance at protests was a breach of his right to privacy.  While the Court of Appeal did not say that every act of surveillance and data retention by the police was unlawful (as clearly the police have to be able to carry out surveillance  to prevent crime, including acts of terrorism and serious disorder, and they must keep that information so that they have evidence to prove the case in court), the Court decided that the surveillance of a protester’s activities and the retention of this information must be proportionate to the aim.  In other words, keeping photos and video of protesters who regularly attend protests and are violent is proportionate to the need to protect the public, but keeping the same on a peaceful protester who has never shown and signs of violence or committing any kind of crime is a breach of that protester’s right to privacy.

What can a fan do if they think their right to privacy is being breached?

It is not an easy task for a fan to find out what data is held on them, and where.  Due to the fact that fans travel around the country to watch their team play, there may be data held on a fan by more then one police force.  In addition the data may be held on a the different databases as mentioned above.  The best way to start is to make a Data Protection Act request (also known as a subject access request) to the police force where the home team’s football intelligence unit is held as this is most likely where a fan’s data will be held.  A freedom of information request can be made to the police force to ask how they share football fan information may assist in identifying other databases where a fan’s information may be held.  This Merseyside Police  Freedom of Information request gives an indication of the types of question that should be raised in a freedom of information request –  Merseyside Police Freedom Of Information Information on fans data held and football banning orders

What is the difference between a Data Protection Act request and a Freedom of Information request?

In basic terms, if a fan wants to find out what data is held on them personally this will be a Data Protection Act request (subject access request).  A form for this can be found on the police forces websites. This type of request can also be made to  individual football clubs.  If a fan wants to find out general information about where football fan data is held, or who the police force shares the information with, this is a Freedom of Information request.

What can a fan do if they find that private information is being held about them by the Police or the Football Club?

A complaint should firstly be made to whoever is holding the data, asking them to remove it from their systems and confirm it has been destroyed.  If this is not successful, then in the case of data held by the police, a complaint can be made to either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or the Office of the Information Commissioner.  In cases of data being held by the football club, a complaint should be made to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Above all it must be remembered that the Police have a job to do, and that they are justified in holding information on some fans, and likewise the Football Club may be able to justify holding certain information on football fans, such as the seat numbers for season ticket holders, but a fan also has a right to privacy and to ensure that information on them is not being held or shared for no reason.  The fact a person choses to spend their free time at football matches does not mean they have given up their right to privacy.