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June 2015 Travel Restrictions on Anyone on Football Banning Order and the Power Struggle of the UK Football Policing Unit

Once again, its coming up to time when football fans in England who are on a football banning order are placed under a restriction of their liberty for no other reason than the National team are playing overseas.

There are two matches coming up, the Ireland v England friendly match on 7th June 2015 and the Euro 2016 qualifier Slovenia v England on 14th June 2015. What this means for fans on a football banning order is that they have to hand in their passports to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015, and also have to report to their designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June 2015. Just when that reporting period ends, the next one starts. Fans have to hand in their passports to the police on 9th or 10th June and they can’t be collected until after the match on 14th June 2015.

For many fans, unless they have plans to travel between the 2nd and 15th June 2015, it is probably an easier deal to just leave their passports at the police station until after the 15th June. However, this is a huge restriction on their liberty.

An even bigger restriction on a fan’s personal life and freedom of movement is the reporting restriction on 7th June 2015. The reason the UK Football Policing Unit has put these restrictions in place is because it is possible to travel to Ireland on a driving licence, and the legislation does not permit the UKFPU to require a fan to hand in their driving licence. But let’s face it, fans who are on the police radar will be spotted at the airport or port anyway as they are well known to the football officers, who will be loitering around at all major airports and ferry terminals.

It is questionable whether this isn’t just the UK Football Policing Unit asserting its authority. An authority which has always kept itself below the radar. As a lawyer dealing with football fan cases, it has become increasingly difficult to deal with the UKFPU. It will not engage in communications about fans’ bans, and rarely responds to queries. So why has it suddenly decided to poke its head above the parapet. Call me a cynic but suddenly articles written by the UKFPU are being published in the media, and the newspapers are being fed stories which are are being printed to try and persuade the public that football hooliganism is on the increase and that if we are not careful it will go back to the ‘Dark Days’. This is nothing more than UKFPU spin, the Home Office statistics for the past few years have shown that incidents of football violence are low, compare that to incidents of violence on a Friday and Saturday night in the town centers around England.

It’s a shame that the UKFPU doesn’t think about the impact its reporting restrictions are having on those fans who work on Sundays, who usually take their kids swimming on Sunday morning, or who had plans to take the family away for the weekend. And the reality is that, in certain areas of the country a fan can sign on just after 10am and still catch a flight to Dublin in time for kick off, or shortly after. This reporting restriction will achieve nothing in relation to those fans (if there are indeed any) who are determined to go to Ireland and cause trouble, but will no doubt give the UKFPU some extra brownie points when it is applying to the Government for its next round of funding so that its staff can travel around the World promoting the UKFPU. Why let the right of movement of hardworking fans get in the way of that?

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Just to clarify, if you are on a football banning order, you must hand in your passport to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015 and report to your designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June. You can collect your passport on 8th June 2015, but you must hand it in on the 9th or 10th June 2015 for the next control period, and cannot collect until 15th June 2015.
If you do not see the football officer when you hand in your passport or you report, always make sure you get a receipt to say that you have attended, even if it is just a handwritten note signed by the officer you have spoken to, and the time and date.

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Hitting the Real Life Murder Scene & Trying to Keep the Client From Death Row

My mum had high hopes for me as a lawyer, but it turns out, I only like the dirty gritty edgy stuff that brings me into contact with the worse crimes that you can imagine. The kid found in a suitcase in the canal, the torture of a gang member and anyone who just happened to be a member of their family, the tourist abducted from the beach during a night time stroll and buried alive. Yet I also see those who are accused of the crimes, the lives they have lived, and still live, and I also have at the forefront of my mind the fact that they might, just might, be innocent. I’m a defense lawyer trying to keep those charged with the most heinous crimes from Death Row.

Standing in a street which was the scene of a drive by shooting two days earlier, I count the number of bullet holes in the building opposite, and then notice that the cars in the neighboring yards are also riddled with bullet holes and that the 2 inch thick metal fence posts didn’t fare a lot better. Meanwhile cars with blackened windows cruise past very slowly, and I’m conscious that if the window rolls down and there is an automatic weapon on the other side, those holes aren’t just going to be in a fence post and house brick.

So why am I here? It’s a crime scene and my client is charged with murder, it’s as simple as that. I want to look at the crime scene, get a feel for it myself, speak to the neighbors – if any will speak to me – I’m a middle aged white woman in a predominantly black poor neighborhood. Some call it the ghetto, but its not, there are good, hard working decent people living here, they would like to move but are unable to, they are in hock to the bank for their houses and no one is going to buy a house from them with the added selling pitch of MP5 bullet holes. Instead they have to hope that their son coming home from school at 5pm isn’t the next innocent victim of gang turf wars that have spilled over to these streets in recent years.

I don’t have the back up that the cops have when they visit these areas, I don’t have a firearm, or a radio to call for back up. To advertise the fact that I’m not a cop, I often show a lot more flesh than I usually think appropriate for a defense lawyer at work, tight cropped jeans so that its clear I don’t have a firearm strapped to my legs, bare hips and small of my back, showing there is nothing concealed in my waistband, and a Public Defender tag around my neck. It’s as good as a sign on my head “Yes I know I’m way out of my depth on these streets but I’m not a cop or looking to buy drugs”. In reality my best asset is my English accent, its very rare for a person not to respond to me when I ask to speak to them.. there is always that curiosity, it might come in the form of “I love your accent, where are you from?” or “hey Bitch where you from, that ain’t no Hood accent”. To me it doesn’t matter so long as it gets people talking, as that what I’m there to do. Many of the people in these streets will have refused to speak to the police, or to provide statements, but they may be prepared to talk to me. A street of 20 houses, at least 10 of them hit by stray gunfire, and when the police attended, no one heard a thing, apparently they were all asleep. I can usually find at least one or two who were not quite so asleep after all, and then there is always the local gossip who may actually hold a fair amount of truth.

I take photos of the scene on my iPhone, locations and lighting, where cars would have likely been parked, lines of sight for the neighboring and opposite houses. I’m not a crime scene investigator, but I have a good eye for a crime scene and will pass all my information back to the defense investigators and tell them what I want them to look for, what reconstructions I want. If it was a night time shooting then I’m sorry but I need an investigator to go back at night time. A day time photo or an ariel shot from Google Earth isn’t going to cut it with me.

I will often go back with the investigators to show them what I want. In the past I’ve borrowed cars to carry out reconstructions using the exact same car the police were sitting in to show that they could not have seen what they say they saw from inside the vehicle. I’ve asked cops to interrupt their lunch to get down on their knees in the middle of the diner and pull a weapon to show me whether it can be done the way my client has said it happened, and I’ve visited snitches in jail to tell them that so long as they keep out of my client’s way they should be ok as I’ve told my client that if the snitch dies, they too are going to face the same grim reaper that they have tattooed on their arm!

I am sure many of you are thinking that this is the stuff of Hollywood and doesn’t happen in real life, and that’s right, many lawyers don’t do anything more than meet their client at court and speak to them occasionally on the phone. But that’s not me, I need to get into the mind of my client and their life, and because of this I have ensured that most of my clients don’t go to Death Row and with those who do I can say I have tried.

Next stop is the local liquor store as these are often the focal point for these neighborhoods. As I walk up to the liquor store with its blacked out windows I’m never quite sure what to expect inside, but it is the usual, the clerk and all the alcohol behind bulletproof glass, money passed through a small gap where the glass meets the counter, a big metal pull out tray under the counter where the alcohol is delivered after payment is made. The only stuff on show are a few cans of coke in a side fridge. I grab a coke and join the queue, which parts for me to go to the front. I’m not from round here, they want to know why I’m there and possibly get me out as soon as possible. My problem is that I don’t want to go first, I want to talk to the clerk when he’s on his own. As soon as I walked into this store I realized that my client wouldn’t have walked into this store to jack it, the bullet proof glass, with American Rifle Association stickers all over it, gave it away that it’s not quite an easy target, so the other option is that he or those with him, were in here to buy a firearm. I explain to the clerk who I am and tell him that I am confused as to why my client went into the store that evening as surveillance footage shows that he didn’t exit with any liquor, was it perhaps that they card everyone, and my client didn’t have ID? The clerk completely ignores me.. oh well that’s a bust then. Two guys behind me snigger as though they can’t believe I am naïve enough to think that this liquor store cards all its customers. As I walk past them I mutter “or is it that he wanted something else that went in his waistband?”

By the time I exit the liquor store there are kids circling on bikes “hey lady, you been asking questions in my neighborhood?” It’s amazing how a 12 year old kid can create such an intimidating atmosphere, but my clients over the years have taught me ….don’t back down, don’t show a sign of weakness, you might still get shot or beaten but its less likely ..jeez thanks. So I don’t back down I walk up to the kids, I hand them all one of my cards, and they let me walk off. As I drive out of the parking lot, one of them circles up to my car, and gives me a name…it might come to nothing or it might be the breakthrough in my case. My client’s life might actually be saved by a 12 year old riding a bike!

‘It’s those who think it will never happen to them who are most at risk ‘. The role that Grassroots Sport can play in combatting Child Sexual Exploitation.

Recently I attended a training session at Rotherham United FC, this time it wasn’t anything to do with football training, but instead helping grassroots coaches and team managers to identify potential child exploitation, and to help young people recognise that they may be a target of a groomer. The dangers of child sexual exploitation are everywhere, any youth, any age, can be groomed. Some may be groomed quicker than others, a few hours in some cases, and over a year in other cases. The whole point of grooming is identifying a person’s weakness and exploiting it. In reality, those most at risk of grooming are young people and their parents who believe it will never happen to them, the youths who have supportive parents and activity filled lives. The reason they are most at risk is exactly because they think it will never happen to them, so they are not looking out for the signs – the supposed football scout who turns up at youth football matches, speaks to parents and gains their trust, or the person who advertises exam tuition classes in the family home. Over time that person gains the trust of the family, and at the same time learns about the youth, and hence can identify their vulnerability, or waits for a vulnerability to show. All it takes is an argument with parents, a broken relationship, or some poor school results, and they then become a shoulder to cry on, a person who understands. It is at this stage the sexual exploitation can start in earnest, and before the youth or parents realise what is happening, it can often be too late. The whole point of the child sexual exploitation grassroots sports training is to help those who work regularly with youths to identify the signs, such as the football scout who is attending youth matches, but who hasn’t previously contacted the local Football Association to arrange their attendance, the child who usually turns up to swimming club on their own but who has recently been turning up with an adult who isn’t a family member or friend, a player who has started to act violently towards other players on the field, or who will no longer undress infront of their team mates in the changing rooms. All of this is placing a big responsibility on sports coaches and managers, and they shouldn’t be expected to do it alone. Parents should also be aware of the signs, not just in their own children, but listen to their sons and daughters when they are talking about the changes they are seeing in their friends. A friend whose parents are on low income, and all of a sudden the friend has a brand new iPhone which he uses at school but which his parents don’t know about. The friend who is wearing new clothes and is talking about the new ‘older’ friends she is chatting to online. The youth who suddenly has new football boots and is being dropped off at training in an unknown vehicle. While we can reflect on how sad it is that we have to be suspicious of others, it is exactly these suspicions which can help to prevent future child sexual exploitation. Just being an extra set of eyes and ears, and if we see something which doesn’t seem right, to challenge it. If the football scout is genuine, they will accept that they have to be listed with the local Football Association, if the person taking an interest in the young swimmer is a family friend they should be happy to provide their name if asked.

Updated Statement Regarding PSG v Chelsea Metro Incident

Today summonses were served by the Metropolitan Police Service on 5 Chelsea FC fans in relation to the Paris Metro incident a few weeks ago.

This afternoon there has been a lot of incorrect media reporting about the content of the summonses and their likely outcome, as well as further publication of the fans’ personal details and private life. We can assure concerned Chelsea fans that we are currently working to correct this incorrect and misleading reporting.

We have not seen all of the summonses but we can comment on what we have seen and what we know about this area of law. The summonses are for Section 14b Football Spectators Act football banning orders. They are not for criminal charges of racist offences.  As we stated previously, the Metropolitan Police Service cannot bring charges of racist offences against fans for their alleged actions overseas, only the French police can do that. The summonses do not act as European Arrest Warrants, no fan can be extradited to France on the basis of a summons, nor can they be sent to prison in the UK.

The first hearing of these cases is 25th March 2015, it will come as no surprise that this has been set 2 days prior to the England v Lithuania match. The fact that these summonses were served on the day of the CFCvPSG match is no happy coincidence, and the cynics among us would say it was done to create another media storm, and to further cement a trial by media against these fans. With this in mind, We repeat our warnings of the past few weeks, if you are a Chelsea fan, please think carefully about your social media interaction tonight, as lazy journalism will no doubt continue, with the media publishing comments from twitter or Facebook and many of these may be taken out of context. We are a vocal supporters of freedom of the press so it is a shame that we are having to warn fans about the dangers of exercising their right to freedom of speech on social media, but sadly in relation to this incident, fair reporting has not been conducted by some of the media, and fans need to protect themselves from potential damage to reputation.

For further information, please see our previous statement linked on the right hand side of this page.

Alison Gurden, Barrister & Melanie Cooke, Solicitor

Statement by @gurdena & @CookeMelanie Answering Questions of Worried Chelsea Fans and Confirming Support For All Football Fans

In the past 36 hours we have received numerous queries from Chelsea fans, concerned that their presence on a Paris Metro train may result in them being hounded by the press, arrested and sent to Paris for trial, and issued with a lengthy football banning order by the English courts.

Alison Gurden’s blog on the media witch-hunt and Twitter lynch-mob received over 3000 views in just 24 hours. It is hoped that Chelsea fans who went to Paris took her advice and either privatised their social media accounts, or only posted comments and photos which cannot be twisted and turned against them.  The blog is printed beneath this press release.

We are aware that many fans who were on the Metro train have already been harassed by the press, with reporters camping outside their houses and shouting through their letter boxes. Some fans’ family members and friends have also been tracked down by reporters and asked for comment.  The Paris incident itself has faded into the background in much of the newspaper reporting, with the newspapers instead choosing to identify a fan’s employer, school, university, family members and political affiliations. We are aware of fans who have been suspended from their employment, and others who are unable to attend college due to this press hounding.

The question many fans have asked is “will I end up in a Paris jail for just being in the photo taken on the Metro train?”. While we cannot give a definitive answer to this, any fan who is wanted by the Paris police, and who is on UK soil, must first be arrested in the UK under a European Arrest Warrant. This is a legal process, and any arrest can be challenged, however it must be challenged very early on, when the fan first appears in the English Magistrates Court. A fan is unlikely to be interviewed at the police station if they are arrested under a European Arrest Warrant, but they are entitled to legal advice and assistance and to have a family member or friend notified that they are under arrest.  A fan can also apply for bail when they first appear in the English Magistrates Court. The European Arrest Warrant is not just a rubber stamp to extradite a fan to Paris, but only if the fan challenges it from the very beginning, if they don’t challenge it, they could find themselves in a Paris court within 14 days.

The Metropolitan Police Service has issued a statement making it clear that it will seek football banning orders on all those involved in the incident on the Metro train. This will no doubt be in the form of a court summons, delivered by hand, to a fan at their home address. It will probably be delivered very early in the morning. These summons are usually accompanied by a costs schedule which states that the costs of opposing the police application will be £5000, but if the fan agrees in writing, there and then, to accept the ban, the costs will be waived. In our experience this is scaremongering. While we accept that the police can ask for costs in a case where they are successful in their football banning order application, the costs rarely reach anywhere close to £5000.

While we do not condone racism in any context, but we do believe in due process of law. It is evident that there is a gap in the protection of fan’s rights in high profile situations such as this.  We have experience of high profile football fan cases and we act in the best interests of the football fan client when handling the press, negotiating with employers or colleges, and representing in court. We are independent, not politically connected, nor affiliated to any organisation or football club, and will continue to support Chelsea FC fans, and any other fans facing a trial by media.

Alison Gurden, Barrister, 1 Gray’s Inn Square Chambers
Melanie Cooke, Solicitor.

Pitch Invasions are the New Pyro

Pitch invasions are common occurrences at rugby grounds after international matches. People may not welcome it, but the pitch invasion is not regarded as criminal activity or a serious problem. The youngsters who exuberantly invade the pitch when their side wins are not potential criminals, and should not be regarded as such”. Comment by David Maclean MP during the House of Commons debate on the Football (Offences and Disorder) Bill 16th April 1999

In a month where Spiderman has been removed from the pitch at Sunderland”s Stadium of Light and a Gorilla advertising campaign saw three men invade the pitch at White Hart Lane with the purpose of advertising the headphones endorsed by Spurs, it is becoming obvious that pitch invasions are becoming the 2014/15 football season trend. Incidents of pyro use in stadiums seems to have decreased. ‘Pyro is so last season’ is a comment made by a fan a few weeks ago, and I think he is right.

I represent football fans who have been arrested and charged with football offences, and last year I was in court week after week representing fans who were facing up to 3 months in prison and a football banning order for having possession of pyro in a stadium. This year I have already seen a huge increase in pitch invasion cases. Unfortunately, what is classed as ‘exuberance’ at rugby, is not classed as the same at a football match. Pitch invasion is a criminal offence, it carries a fine and is also likely to result in a football banning order.

The debates in Parliament at the time the legislation relating to pitch invasions at football was being passed, seemed to indicate that it was being made a criminal offence in order to prevent violence on the pitch. The offence of pitch invasion was introduced in 1991, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster and the recommendation by Lord Justice Taylor in his 1989 report that the fences should be removed at football stadiums. In the same year, there was a pitch invasion by Birmingham fans at Crystal Palace which ended up with sixteen people being taken to hospital, one with stab wounds, and the match was held up for 26 minutes. This seemed to be the final straw for a Government which was not overly keen on football fans. The Government decided something has to be done to prevent rioting fans coming onto the pitch and hence, the offence of pitch invasion was created in the Football (Offences) Act 1991.

While most football fans will agree that they go along to football to watch the match and don’t want it being disrupted by disorderly behaviour on the pitch, the footage of the first pitch invader at the Tottenham Hotspur v Partizan Belgrade shows that most fans were not overly concerned about the fact the match was being held up for a couple of minutes while the invader took selfies on the pitch. Neither the fans nor the players had quite so much good humour by the time the third invader was running shirtless around the pitch. Were these invasions carried out by fans who were likely to commit disorder at future football matches, and who should be banned from football matches for a least three years, and also forced to report to police and hand in their passports every time England or Spurs play overseas? In my opinion, this is not criminal activity which justifies a football banning order. It should be a club matter.

There is no denying that the club could face punishment for not preventing the pitch invasion, UEFA are considering charges which could result in a hefty fine, and the advertising revenue may be affected. It is common in televised matches that the club has to pay compensation to Sky Sports or BT Sport for the loss in advertising revenue which is a result of the TV cameras being turned away from the invader on the pitch. The club has wide reaching powers to ban a fan, and most clubs use this power. In addition if they want to do so, they can bring a claim through the civil courts for any loss revenue.

So you would think that as the clubs have ample power to deal with these invasions, that the courts would not be overly concerned about imposing their own restrictions…well think again. In addition to a fine, the courts regularly impose a football banning order, which means that the fan will be banned from attending any regulated football match for the next three years, and will also have to notify the police if they change address, as well as having to hand in their passport to the Police whenever England or their club play overseas.

The fact that a fan is apologetic for the fact that they tried to hug the referee, or wanted to congratulate a goal scorer, is not enough to prevent the courts imposing a ban. Recently a pitch invader was taken off of the pitch by the stewards, who in a lack of judgment took the fan past the Away fans, causing them to become vocal and throw coins at the fan on the pitch, this was deemed by the court to be the fault of the fan on the pitch, and something which required a ban as otherwise the fan may go to a football match again and do the same thing. Nothing was said about the fact that the opposing fans were themselves committing an offence by throwing coins, nor that the steward had completely misjudged the situation, or that the Club had already issued the fan with a Club ban.

Arguments that the Club is most likely to impose a ban on the fan often hold no weight with the courts, they still seem to feel it is their duty to impose the football banning order, even though they have to accept that if a fan is banned by a Club they are highly unlikely to be invading their pitch any time soon. The Police are notified by the Club if a fan is banned, and will look out for the fan at away matches, and will notify the Club if the fan is seen at an away match. The fan who purchased the ticket for the banned fan is usually also banned by the Club.

Hence, the pitch invasion is being treated with the same severity by the police and the courts as the use of pyro. No mater what the circumstances, a pitch invader faces a football banning order. That is not to say that it is a foregone conclusion, and in many cases I have persuaded the courts that they should not impose a football banning order, however it is an uphill struggle and fans should be aware of this.

After all as was said in Parliament during the debate on creating the offence of pitch invasion, “we who follow the rugby code..have no need for legislation of this kind…Rugby has been well described as a game designed for ruffians but played by gentlemen..”. Football is not rugby, and the same behaviour of rugby fans carried out in a football stadium faces the full force of the law. The law is certainly not equal when it comes to football fans.

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.

 

 

‘Efficiency’ is the new ‘Targets’ = The massacre of the Criminal Justice system

Last night I was up until 3am working on a last minute defence case statement for a case which should have reached trial in the magistrates’ court on Friday, only it didn’t as the CPS didn’t serve the witness statements until a week previously and then wrote a scathing letter to the court when the defence had the audacity to ask for the witnesses to be present at trial. At this stage I could launch an attack on the CPS, and no doubt in time I will do, but the failure of this trial to go ahead is like many others in the courts every day, evidencing the fact that the criminal justice system no longer offers justice for anyone, victims, witnesses or defendants and is imploding. All the while it is imploding we are facing a daily barrage of comments from those civil servants and ministers who have never even set foot in a police station or court room telling us that if we were more efficient with our working the criminal justice system would work just fine. I swear if I hear this one more time I am likely to become my own client.

Here is a sample day in the magistrates’ court for me, and I know I am not alone in this ‘efficient working’ daily experience.

* the CPS prosecutor not turning up until 11am (and that’s not their fault as the local offices have been closed and some now have to cross into a different county and travel an extra 25 miles to get to work), and then realising they don’t have the right file;

* a police officer attending straight after a night shift (actually let’s make it after 9 night shifts in a row, it should be 5, but there are so many officers on sick leave or driving round during the day to diary appointments which the public either don’t remember or can’t make as they have to go to work). The officer will be told that they are not needed at court and asked ‘didn’t you get the memo cancelling your attendance at court?’. Had there still been witness care units in police stations, the officer may have been notified, but with witness care units at such a depleted state, the memo will still be buried under all the other memos that the staff have not yet managed to get to.

* not to worry, the police officer will be needed anyway, as the victim and civilian witnesses have not arrived. The officer will be asked to go and see if they can collect the witnesses. Hmm… The first problem with that is that in many areas there are now not enough cars, the officer will have been dropped at court by a colleague and have to make their own way back..don’t forget the cars are needed for the diary appointments that no one keeps! But even if a car is available, the witnesses are unlikely to be at home.  They work and we’re not warned to attend court today so have not booked the time off, another unjust result of complete witness care units being made redundant again. But not to worry as there is a witness care unit in the next county, they can help..oh but they are all off on stress leave due to the pressure of having to do twice the work with a quarter of staff;

* Que the court staff, can they print out the file for the prosecutor as they will have received a copy at the first hearing. Unfortunately the court doesn’t have any working photocopiers at the moment, and even if it did, there is no paper in them….at least ‘efficiency’ is benefitting the rain forests.

* all of this is immaterial in any event as my client is 15 years old, being held in secure accommodation and hasn’t arrived. The magistrates ask that the usher makes a phone call to find out about this situation, oh but sadly there are no longer any ushers in the court, ‘efficient working’ put a stop to that. Hence the court clerk has to make a call, but the court can’t sit without the court clerk so the magistrates have to leave the court and sit outside doing nothing while the calls are made. Now there is efficiency for you!

* unfortunately the Youth Offending Team can’t help us in the search for my client, their computers are down, they have been for the past week and no one seems inclined to fix them….no doubt G4S have already bought new computers in anticipation of their take over. But after half an hour we trace my client to secure accommodation 55 miles away, the closer accommodation was closed down earlier this year as it was too costly…imagine that, a centre for vulnerable youths not being able to make a profit. Anyway, we are told that my client will not be coming to court as there are no staff to bring him. They are running on a skeleton staff of two as that’s all the current funding will provide, and if one member of staff accompanies my client, that will leave the other member looking after six vulnerable youths on their own.

* the end result is that no trial will go ahead today. But not to worry, this is a legal aid case so I will get paid….oh, hang on a minute, I only get paid for advocacy now, and not attendance, and there was no advocacy. So that is nil £ for me today, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference anyway, the Legal Aid Authority doesn’t seem to be paying bills at the moment. My last communication from them was 8 weeks ago, relating to a case which was finished over a year ago and which had to go for adjudication of fees. I was notified that after a year the adjudicator had made a decision, but there weren’t enough staff at the Legal Aid Authority to type it up and approve the payment, and therefore they would get back to me when they could…. I am not holding my breath on that one!

*but at least my travel to court will be paid? Ah.. Back to the adjudication, apparently taking the train to court at the cost of £8.40 return and a journey of 45 minutes each way is not very ‘efficient’ when I could get a bus for £2.60 return, and it only takes 2 hours each way. Hence, the adjudication was to cut my travel costs by £5.80, and I am sure that the time spent by the adjudicator and the Legal Aid Authority staff ( when they finally get to my claim) will have been worth the £5.80, although let’s face it, if they spend more than 10 minutes on the adjudication they will be working at a loss.

All the while, the Government which is telling us we must be more ‘efficient’ and that those of us working in the criminal justice system are to blame, is wasting a vast amount of money on a Public Defender Service, which is not wanted or needed, but which is an example of the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice throwing their toys out of the pram when those in the criminal justice system fight back against the cuts.

I am a criminal lawyer and always will be, and I am a fighter, but this Government is consistently knocking me down and I fear that soon I and all the others who have made a career within the criminal justice system will no longer have the fight to get back up. I am in a very fortunate position, I am self employed, and I know that the solicitors who instruct me will not refuse to do so anymore on the basis of this blog. Many of my colleagues in the criminal justice system are not so lucky, whistleblowing policies seem to be a waste of paper. Those in the police, CPS and Court Service who are speaking out are finding themselves disciplined or sidelined, living in fear that if they speak out they may no longer be able to afford their rent or their mortgage. The bosses who are supposed to protect them are so ‘efficiency’ target driven that the implied term of trust and confidence only seems to exist in the employee/employer relationship and not the other way round.

I’m not looking for sympathy, just that those of us in the criminal justice system continue our fight, and support each other, as that is the only way we will prevent the implosion of the criminal justice system and ensure at least a certain amount of justice for those who are unfortunate enough to become part of it.

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.