Think the suggestion of ID cards for away fans is just a Millwall FC issue.. think again! 

I’m aware of an article on the Sun Online about Millwall FC fans being required to have the equivalent of Away Fan ID cards. The EFL have used the pitch invasion of some fans at the end of the play off at Wembley as a reason for requiring the fans to provide ID to purchase away tickets but in truth this is just an excuse and a slippery slope for all football fans who travel away.

In the 1980s and early 1990s the Government wanted to introduce ID cards for football fans and even drew up legislation which was debated in Parliament. The ID card scheme was never approved, partly because the question of how to allow alcohol to be served in corporate boxes while preventing fans in the stands from drinking alcohol then took priority and used up all the time set aside for the ID card discussions.  But, don’t for one minute think that the ID card idea has gone away.

A few years ago at the Brighton V Crystal Palace match, in which Crystal Palace secured a place in the Premier League, the Met Police sent out a message that everyone travelling to Brighton would be stop checked and would have to provide ID to show they were the fan named on their ticket. This plan fell apart as Crystal Palace didn’t print the fans names on the tickets, and Sussex Police refused to get involved in the scheme. But this is just one example of the fact ID for away fans has been bubbling under the surface for years.

If the EFL are successful in forcing Millwall FC to introduce away fan ID, this will be the start of the slippery slope. The next club which has a pitch invasion or some kind of fan issue will find itself in the same position as Millwall FC but then there will be the added justification ‘well it’s already been introduced at Millwall FC so why should you be treated differently’.

My phone has been red hot all morning with football fans moaning about the possibility of ID cards. I’ve got your back, I don’t agree with it, but on my own I can’t do anything about it. Grass roots campaigns can be hugely effective, and if the ID card idea is to be stopped it will need a well organised grassroots campaign from all fans who travel to away games, not just Millwall FC fans.  This affects any fan who travels to away games as it is campaigning against future restrictions which, if you don’t try and stop it now, will happen.

Bitching on social media, setting off smoke bombs outside the EFL offices and blaming the football clubs will not work.  Football fans have such a varied background (project managers, company directors, accountants, lawyers, journalists, lobbyists, campaigners, research students.. etc etc) this could be a grassroots campaign like no other but it requires football fans putting in the work. I’m happy to assist and coordinate, but I can’t do this without your help. 

Either stand up to the EFL now or get ready to hand over an ID card every time you travel away within the next 5 years. 

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Message on Behalf of Roy Larner – the ‘Hero of London Bridge’

On 3rd June 2017 Mr Roy Larner was a victim of the attack at London Bridge. He has been hailed a hero for his actions on that evening, but it should not be forgotten that he is also a victim who was quite seriously injured due to direct contact with an attacker. For the past five weeks Roy Larner has been involved in what can only be described as a media circus, as understandably the public wanted to hear his story of what happened on that evening.

Now that his account of that evening has been aired, it is time for Roy to take some time out and concentrate on his physical and mental health, as should everyone directly involved in an attack of such a horrific nature.

I ask that Roy is left to focus his attentions on making sure he is able to recover from the incident, and that he is not approached by any press, promotions or organisations with offers of interviews or assistance. All such approaches should be made through myself for the foreseeable future.

I also ask that members of the public respect his privacy, while he is very much a recognisable person due to the media attention, it should be remembered that he is a man who has suffered a very traumatic experience.

Any queries in relation to Roy Larner should be made to me on 07041 212357 or via email gurdena@btinternet.com.

Alison Gurden

Barrister

Mansfield 1 Gray’s Inn Square Chambers 0207 405 0001

ADVICE FOR CELTIC FC FANS WHO HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED BY THE CLUB

 

This is a quick advice which is only in relation to the Celtic FC away matches as I need to obtain further documentation in relation to the suspension of season tickets at Celtic Park.

I am aware that a letter has been sent out to some season ticket holders informing them that their season tickets are under suspension and that they are also banned from attending away matches.. the exact wording is “..pending further investigation you are hereby suspended from attending (1) any Celtic FC or other matches at Celtic Park; (2)any matches involving Celtic FC at any other stadium in Scotland or elsewhere.” There is also mention of a refund for any fans who have purchased a ticket for the match against Rosenborg at Celtic Park.

There is a Celtic FC away match scheduled for 29th July at Sunderland AFC.  A football club cannot ban people from entering any stadium other than its own. Hence, while Celtic FC can ban any person from entering Celtic Park, it cannot ban someone from entering Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. However, if Sunderland AFC wishes to ban Celtic FC fans from entering the Stadium of Light (even if only on advice or recommendation of Celtic FC) it can do so. If Celtic FC fans have purchased their Stadium of Light tickets using their membership, it is possible that Celtic FC have provided these details to Sunderland AFC, and those Celtic FC fans who have been suspended may find they are refused access to the Stadium of Light due to this information. However, neither Celtic FC or Sunderland AFC have made any suggestion that there is a refund system in place for any Stadium of Light tickets and that indicates (although don’t take this as gospel) that the Stadium of Light will not refuse entry to those Celtic FC fans who have purchased tickets and who Celtic FC have suspended. If they do refuse entry due to the request of Celtic FC, a claim can be made against Celtic for the costs of the tickets as no offer has been made for refund or compensation for not being able to attend. In addition, if Celtic FC has provided the details of all the suspended fans to Sunderland FC, that in itself may amount to a data protection breach.

In Short, at the moment it seems as though Celtic FC fans travelling to Sunderland AFC are likely to be granted entry to the Stadium of Light. Obviously those who have not purchased through a membership scheme cannot be traced on their tickets by either Celtic FC or Sunderland AFC. However, keep an eye on Sunderland AFC website incase there are any announcements from Sunderland FC to the travelling Celtic FC fans.

Celtic FC has made a veiled threat in its letter that anyone who tries to evade the suspension will have their season ticket revoked. It is possible for Celtic FC to do this as the club has the ultimate right to deny access to the stadium to anyone as it is a private venue. However, if there is a mass of fans who have their season ticket revoked it is possible to make a complaint to the Football Ombudsman, and in addition anyone who has their season ticket revoked will be able to claim for the cost of the season ticket and also likely be able to claim a small amount of compensation for the aggravation of having the season ticket revoked. But the bottom line is that Celtic FC can ban whoever they want from Celtic Park, no matter how unreasonable.

‘She deserved it…’ ‘He embarrassed me so I decided to do the same to him”… Dealing with online harassment without Police involvement.

Many of us (including me) have been there….posted something on social media in anger, when feeling sad or depressed, or drunk or high.  There is then that ‘Oh Sh*t’ moment when you realise, delete the post or photo and hope that not too many people saw it. Some of these ‘Oh Sh*t’ moments may involve comments about or photos of others and will then involve a grovelling apology to anyone you have embarrassed or upset.

There is however, a growing trend of people posting things on social media, blogs, and forums with the intention of causing another person to feel anxiety or distress, or embarrassment, or alternatively knowing that it will.  The girlfriend/boyfriend who becomes an ex,  and posts what are referred to as ‘dick pics’.  The person who feels aggrieved at the actions of another and posts copies of their private messages in such a way that they could be identified by others.  The person who sends emails or posts online messages to  another’s employer in the hope it will cause them problems at work or even cause them to lose their job.  Or in some cases, someone who becomes fixated on another, who they have never met, but who they research on social media, putting together the pieces until they have identified friends and family, who they then use to get at the person whom they have become fixated.  These are all actions which will be classed as harassment.   In most cases a person knows who it is who is harassing them, or is able to work it out from the content of the harassment.

The law on harassment is clear, there is no defence of “s/he deserved it” or “I wanted to tell them how I feel and they blocked me on their phone so i had to do it this way” or  “well, you can’t identify who I’m talking about just from that post”.  If a person (on more than 1 occasion) intentionally posts things online which on their own, or with other posts could identify another, or sends messages to another’s employer or home, and that causes the other anxiety, or alternatively an ordinary person would say that it is likely to cause anxiety or distress, then it is harassment.

While the Police can deal with harassment complaints, it is often difficult for them to do so quickly.   The police have to investigate and in many cases will have to make contact with another police force as the harasser often lives or works in another area, meanwhile the harasser will often ramp up their harassment, particularly if they do not get a reaction from the person they are harassing.

Another way of dealing with the harassment is by sending a warning letter to the harasser (I have sent out 3 this week alone) warning them that their actions are harassing, and that if they do not stop, then a civil claim can be brought against them.  The benefit of a civil claim is that the police do not need to be involved, the burden of proof is much lower.  Whereas in criminal courts the magistrates or jury have to be satisfied so that they are sure that a person has carried out the action and that an ordinary person would deem it to be harassment, in civil cases, it is merely a question of is it more likely than not that the actions would have caused harassment? This is much easier to prove.  In many cases, just providing screenshots of the social media posts is enough evidence to prove a civil case.

In civil cases a restraining order can be applied for.  This will be aimed at preventing the harasser posting anything else online which could cause the person they were harassing any anxiety or distress, or making any contact with the person they were harassing.  A breach of a restraining order can result in a prison sentence.

In my experience, the warning letter is often enough, but if it doesn’t do the trick, it is very easy to bring a claim in the civil courts as the abused person is in control of the court action, they do not have to rely on the intervention of the police or Crown Prosecution Service.   So although for many people, their first thought is to ring the police, with police resources stretched to breaking point around the country, a much better chance of getting the harassment stopped may be taking things into your own hands and using the civil route.

 

 

Seen your photo in the press with a ‘wanted hooligan’ type headline? Here’s what to do about it. 

The recent publication of football fan photos, by the Metropolitan Police, highlights again the media spin which is placed on alleged ‘football hooligans’. When police publish a photo of someone wanted in connection with a rape or serious assault, the photo usually appears inside the newspaper, however today a few newspapers chose to put the photos of fans they want to speak to following the Millwall v Leicester match on their front pages.
What does it mean when the police release your photo to the media?

The police have identified from cctv footage or social media footage, people who were at the match and who the police believe were involved in disorder. This does not mean that a person has to make contact with the police if their photograph is published, However it is likely that if the police identify them (often through someone else contacting the phone number on the press release and providing a name), the police will turn up at the fans home address early one morning and arrest them. 

Once arrested and taken to the police station, the fan is entitled to a lawyer being present in interview. This is free of charge, and there is a misconception amongst many people arrested, that the lawyer is a police lawyer. That’s not true, the lawyer works for the defence. 

The other misconception is that if an arrested person doesn’t have a lawyer they will get out of the police station quicker. This is a comment that arrested people often tell me the police told them. That is rubbish! A standard stay in a police station after arrest is 6-10 hours, lawyer or no lawyer. But in my experience, those who don’t have a lawyer come out with stringent bail conditions, and are more likely to be charged with an offence. 

The alternative to an early morning knock at home by the police, is for a fan to identify themselves to the police as being in the photographs. It is still likely that the fan will be interviewed, but it can often be arranged as a voluntary interview at a time and date convenient to the fan. The fan is still entitled to have a lawyer present during interview. A voluntary interview also means that (unless the fan is then charged with an offence) they don’t have to give their fingerprints and DNA at the police station. 

If a fan self identifies, this can be done via their lawyer, so that arrangements can be made for the lawyer to attend the police station with the fan. 
What about the publication of the photos?

Once the person in the photo has been identified, there is no need for the police and media to keep the photo displayed on their websites. I am often contacted by fans who are concerned that months after they have been identified their image is still out there on the internet. While it’s not possible to guarantee that the photo is removed from the Internet completely, it is possible to ask that the websites containing the photo are updated to blur out the image. I regularly make contact with the police and press to ensure that the photo is removed. 

Anyone who is concerned about their image being in the press can contact me 07941 212357 or Melanie Cooke, Football Law Associates 07834 483092 for advice and assistance. 

Prologue to the 1st chapter of my crime novel – what do you think?

The lawyer sits in the warmth of the high street coffee shop, watching a waify girl cross the road. It’s the middle of winter but the girl is dressed in jeans and a hoody, her hands in her pockets, hunched against the cold. She reaches the door of the coffee shop but hesitates, she doesn’t enter, this sort of place is alien to her, full of nicely dressed women holding toddlers, and grey haired women and bald men – pensioners chatting over their frothy coffees.

The lawyer bekons to the waify girl, waving her inside. She already has a latte and chocolate muffin on the table waiting for her.
The waify girl sits down, so obviously out of her comfort in the surroundings. The lawyer isn’t sure if the tears in the girl’s eyes are from the cold or something more.

The lawyer pushes the coffee and muffin across the table towards the girl “eat… you look cold and hungry..”

The girl starts to speak but it ends up in a sob “I can’t do this anymore, I’ve tried to get help but no one will listen to me. The Doctor can’t see me for the next 3 weeks, my probation officer just tells me to ring once a week and can’t wait to get me off of the phone, I’ve got nowhere to live, I’m not sleeping.. I’ve tried the job centre but they called the police on me last week, I was going there every day asking for help, but they kept refusing to see me without an appointment, saying I have to make an appointment online.. I haven’t got a fucking pot to piss in, how am I going to get on the Internet, if I can’t get in the building?..’

The lawyer remembers the girl from last year when she was full of optimism on being released from prison. Off of drugs and alcohol, and ready to start afresh. The lawyer can smell the alcohol on the girls breath at 11am and guesses that the girl is back self medicating with amphetamines and alcohol.. The black market version of anti depressants.

The girl sees the lawyer as her someone who helped her, listened to her in prison, arranged for a psychiatrist to assess her and give her a few counselling sessions and got her released from prison.

The lawyer sees it differently, a girl remanded in custody on a charge on which someone else had already accepted a caution.  The CPS had been so busy, the file wasn’t reviewed. The lawyer had tried to get the girl released from custody sooner but the court was too busy to list the case as cuts had meant court rooms had been closed. Only after threatening High Court action had the lawyer managed to get the girl’s case listed at court. The cps had dropped the charges that day, and the girl released from the court cells with nothing. Her only possessions were in the prison. The girl had walked out of the court house in the clothes she was wearing and nothing more.

The girl kept her eyes on the table as she whispered that she was OK as she was doing ‘favours’ for some blokes and in return they had let her sleep on their floor the last couple of nights. She’d been beaten last week and spent 6 hours at A&E in the warm, but they stitched her up and released her back on the street. She’d asked to see a mental health nurse, and was asked if she had suicidal thoughts, she’d said ‘No’ and was told the nurse was over subscribed, and she wasn’t in immediate need.

The lawyer made the girl look at her.. “And are you suicidal? Because it’s often nothing to do with mental health, it’s to do with the feeling that you can’t fight anymore”

The girl nods and gets up. “I’m not sure how much fight I’ve got left.”

The lawyer watches the waify figure hunch against the cold as the door slams behind her. She’s annoyed and frustrated, the girl is trying so hard to turn her life around but no one seems to care. She wonders whether the next time she hears about the girl it’s because she’s been found dead in a ditch.. No longer useful for those ‘favours’ to men twice her age, and overdosed on tablets which aren’t what her dealer has told her they are. One of the forgotten ones, who had been exited and overwhelmed to have been given a chocolate muffin!

So what do you think?  A too dramatic piece of fiction?  Well here is the kicker… I’m not really writing a novel,  this is not fiction.  This is the real account of my meeting with an ex client today. A girl trying to turn her life around, but knocked back every step of the way by the cuts and privatisation which has hit the public services on which so many vulnerable people rely.

Want to be a criminal or social justice lawyer? Here’s the reality, now think again!

I have been asked to give a few lectures about my life as a criminal and social justice lawyer to students interested in undertaking this type of work. Unfortunately, at the moment, I am not able to publicise my whereabouts in advance so I can’t give lectures, but I have decided to draft my talk anyway and upload it.

If you are expecting me to encourage all law students to become criminal or social justice lawyers as its a worthwhile role, you are going to be sorely disappointed by the time you finish reading this. If I have persuaded many of you not to undertake the work, that is probably a good thing. I have been a lawyer for nearly 20 years and make no mistake, there has never been a harder time to be a criminal or social justice lawyer than now. Legal aid cuts, or in some areas of law the complete abolition of legal aid, along with an increase in court costs has created a two tier justice system like never before. In the past 6 years, the Government has managed to rip the heart out of a legal system of which I used to be proud. But, although this Government has attacked the legal system like a pack of rabid dogs, the rot had already set in under the previous Labour Government, which set in motion the legal aid cuts. The eradication of lawyers who were passionate about ensuring that everyone had equal access to justice had begun. Those same passionate people had to pay rent or mortgages, repay student loans, provide for their children, and it was becoming increasingly hard to do so on the rates we were being paid for work, which is challenging and demanding, but which is not seen as being high on the scale of important things in life. Well that is until a person becomes involved in the legal system as a defendant or claimant, at that stage they appreciate the importance of a fully funded legal system staffed by people who care about their clients and the rule of law, but by that stage it is too late.

I’m a barrister with a predominantly criminal practice, but that strays into many other areas of law relating to the criminal justice system, complaints against the police, complaints against the CPS, judicial review, police disciplinaries, parole hearings and prisoner adjudications, inquests, criminal injuries compensation, press complaints, employment, Nursing and Midwifery Council hearings…. the list is endless of the types of issue which can result from a criminal case.

No one comes to me because they are happy and their life is good, I am not only a lawyer but also a quasi social worker, surrogate mother, or for some, just a piece of common sense. I don’t work nine to five hours, and I cannot do my job on a 40 hour week. I have lost count of the amount of times I have arrived at a family dinner just in time for desert having been in court or a police station after hours, have declined invitations to social events as I am too busy preparing for a case the next day, spent my Sunday travelling half way round the country to make sure I am in the right area of the country for a Monday morning parole hearing at a prison in the middle of nowhere. I used to say that it would be difficult to do my job if you weren’t passionate about it. I now say it is impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, I bitch about my job, when I am standing on a platform at 05:30 on a cold wet Monday morning waiting to start my 3 hour train journey to a court for what will turn out to be a one hour hearing, or when I get a wake up call from a client at 03:00 as they are in trouble, and when I realise at the end of the month that I am again going to struggle to pay my rent.

This is not a job where people are going to recognise your worth. If you want to be constantly congratulated for your work, go and do something else. After 9 hours on a police carrier with twelve police officers all asking me questions like “How do you sleep at night?’ “How does it feel to know that you have managed to get a guilty person acquitted so that they can go out and hurt someone again?” “How can you even consider representing a child rapist?’ the questions become weary, but its an experience I have had more than once, and it has made me realise that actually I am not thanked by the majority of the public for the work I do. Even my family members struggle to reconcile the fact that I was brought up in a family of high morals and ethics, yet one of my main areas of work is representing people who are accused of crimes, or have committed crimes, which are beyond most peoples worst nightmares. Click on any tabloid newspaper on the internet and you won’t have to search for long to find an article which describes criminal lawyers as fat cat lawyers, with dubious morals.

This job can be very lonely at times, even more so for a barrister than a solicitor as you rarely even have the daily camaraderie of an office environment. I spend hours sitting on trains on my own, waiting at court for my case to come on, sitting in cells with clients who have such mental health issues that its enough that they are able to chat to me about what they have had for lunch, working the twilight zone night after night (some of my friends refer to me as the vampire). And all the while I am dealing with someone else’s problems, which are so personal and confidential that I can’t sit around a dinner table and discuss them even with those closest to me, hence I am constantly bottling up other people’s problems. And even if it is not confidential, its a bit difficult to go out with a group of friends for the evening and when they say ‘oh how was work today? to reply, “oh you know, not bad, I spent the day looking at photos of a dead child so badly mutilated even her own mother wouldn’t have recognised her, that’s if her mother hadn’t also been strangled with such severity that her whole body turned blue, then mutilated and dumped.”

I have a large number of high profile cases on my docket at any one time. My cases are not high profile because the client is a celebrity, but usually because their alleged crime is high profile. This brings additional pressures, making sure that I protect a client (who often cannot help themselves due to the fact they are in custody or have mental health issues) from excessive press intrusion, from actions of the public or occasionally magistrates and judges who want to grandstand in front of the press or the packed public gallery. I rarely comment to the press, I don’t permit journalists or documentary makers to visit my clients, my usual comment when they ask is that my clients are not animals in the zoo.

I am not a high profile lawyer, you won’t find me commenting on legal issues on a tv news programme or featuring in articles in newspapers. I don’t do this for the notoriety, in fact the more I can fade into the background the better. You won’t find photos of me on the internet, and as much as possible I sneak out of a side door of court after a case. I have refused to be part of documentaries and with the exception of the Save UK Justice campaign you won’t find me endorsing any prominent campaign. That way I am totally independent, I work for my client and like to think I act in my client’s best interests. In my opinion the only way that you can ensure that you are acting in the best interests of the client is to make sure you haven’t any other affiliations or involvements which could sway how you act on a case. I will refuse a case if I think my actions on one case may conflict with those on another, the client is paramount.

Not all criminal lawyers are like me, many work from their local courts and have a local client base, and will work more regular hours. I have chosen my career path, it is my fault that I work long hours, have numerous pro bono cases running at any one time, have nightmares about some of the things I’ve seen and can’t un-see, and regularly miss dinner. But whether you chose to take on my type of work or be based more local to home, you will work long hours, be paid for about half of the work you actually do, face ethical situations which you would never have dreamed you would have to deal with, and quite often find that even your own client is not grateful for the work you have put in.

But despite all of that, it can sometimes, just sometimes, feel like the best job in the World!