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Statement in Relation to the Football Banning Application Against Tommy Robinson

My Client, known as Tommy Robinson, has been served with an application for a football banning order by Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police. The main purpose of Bedfordshire Police serving this football banning order was to prevent Tommy Robinson from traveling to France for the Euros. Following an application to the Court, the court has now seen fit to remove that draconian restriction on his liberty.

However Bedfordshire Police persist in making the civil football banning order application, and this application will be heard by the court in September 2016. Tommy Robinson will contest this application.

The mainstay of the application by Bedfordshire Police is that Tommy Robinson, while in France was pictured wearing an Anti ISIS T Shirt, and holding up an English Saint George Cross flag with ‘Fuck ISIS’ written across it, and that this was aimed at inciting racial hatred against muslims. Both I and my client are very concerned that the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police and the UK Football Policing Unit have equated Tommy Robinson’s demonstration against a banned extremist terrorist organisation as being the same as showing hatred towards people of the muslim faith. The Prime Minister David Cameron in his House of Commons speech on 2nd December 2015 refered to the ‘Evil’ of ISIS, and that British Muslims were appalled by ISIS. He further said that the attacks in Syria by the British Military were “far from an attack on Islam, we are engaging in the defence of Islam…failing to act would betray British Muslims”. It now appears that both Bedfordshire Police and the UK Football Policing Unit are linking ISIS to the general muslim people and population, because it suits their purpose of the campaign of harassment against Tommy Robinson.

I am concerned that this application is brought on the basis of a harassment campaign against Tommy Robinson, such that the Assistant Director of the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit, has become involved and provided a statement to the effect that as Tommy Robinson has a high social media profile, and is associated with Pegida UK this is likely to act as a catalyst for disorder and violence outside of the United Kingdom. This clearly is an attack on Tommy Robinson’s freedom of speech and association, and is in direct contravention of the evidence which the UK Football Policing Unit have that Tommy Robinson travelled to France during the period that the England football team played in Marseille, yet he chose not to travel to Marseille, but instead was in Paris without any incident of violence or disorder.

Tommy Robinson will vigorously defend this application against him. On Bedfordshire Police’s own admission, there is no evidence that Tommy Robinson has been involved in any reported football related disorder for at least the past 5 years.

Alison Gurden, Barrister, 1 Gray’s Inn Square Chambers

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 gurdena@btinternet.com

Melanie Cooke can be contacted on 07834 483092 or m.cooke@football-law.co.uk

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.