FOOTBALL FANS ON A FOOTBALL BANNING ORDER MAY HAVE BEEN UNLAWFULLY PREVENTED FROM TRAVELLING DURING THE NATIONS LEAGUE IN JUNE 2019
Lawyers have identified that the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit may have required football fans on a football banning order to surrender their passports prior to the 2019 Nations League tournament in Portugal, without a law being in place to require them to do so. If this is the case, the travel restriction on banned football fans is likely to have been unlawful, and the fans may be entitled to compensation.
If the United Kingdom Football Unit did not have the power to issue the travel restriction, it is questionable how the police had the authority to seize and retain passports. Any action by the police at a port or airport, stopping football fans and preventing them from travelling is also likely to have been unlawful.
Quite simply, the law requires the Secretary of State to stipulate the Control Period during which the football fans have to surrender their passport. The United Kingdom Football Policing Unit required fans to surrender their passport to the police between 29thMay 2019 and 1stJune 2019. It appears that no control period was put in place by the Secretary of State for the Nations League tournament. If the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit did act unlawfully, then at best those who surrendered their passport on 1stJune 2019 had their human rights interfered with for 9 days, those who surrender their passport on 29thMay 2019 had their rights interfered with for nearly 2 weeks.
If it is correct that there was no authority in place to restrict banned football fans’ movements, this could affect nearly two thousand football fans!
The claim against the United Kingdom Football Unit, which is part of the Home Office, is being brought on behalf of some football fans by Sarah Magson of Watson Woodhouse. Anyone who wishes to find out more about the claim, or thinks they too may have been affected can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Magson at email@example.com 01642 266 559
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.
With the recent publication of photos in the press of football fans who the police wish to question following the Oxford United v Millwall FC match, this is a reminder to football fans that, sadly, you are often portrayed as hooligans until you can prove otherwise.
If you are a Millwall FC fan and your photo has been published in the press, then the chances are that you will be identified to the police at some stage. This may then lead to an early morning front door knock by the police and arrest. It is often better to make arrangements to visit the police station and identify yourself as being in the photo. Especially if you have not been arrested for anything previously. Once you are arrested the police are entitled to take your fingerprints and DNA and this will be held on file forever more, whether you are charged with an offence or not. If you make arrangements for a voluntary interview at the police station with a lawyer, and can show that you are are either mistakenly identified or that you have done nothing wrong, it is likely that you will not be arrested and your DNA and fingerprints will not be taken.
If you are arrested, there is a high likelihood that you will be charged with a football related offence unless you are legally represented. The police may tell you that it will take a while for a lawyer to attend custody to represent you. Don’t be fooled into believing that without a lawyer you will be in and out of the police station in no-time. Speak to any football fan who has been arrested, 5-6 hours is the standard detention time in a police station, whether or not a person is represented by a lawyer. If you are not legally represented in interview, the officer will no doubt state that he or she thinks that you could be suitable for a caution and release from custody. You will then be held in custody for quite a while longer and then be told by the officer that, unfortunately their superior has said that a caution is not possible and that you will have to be charged and it can be sorted out at court. This is standard as the Home Office guidance is that all football related offences should be charged rather than a caution issued. The next thing which is likely to happen is that the custody sergeant will issue bail conditions that include not to go to Millwall FC matches, but can be as specific as not to leave your own home from an hour before Millwall FC play until 5 hours after final whistle. That’s a home curfew on a Saturday and some weekday evenings, and can last for months until a court date! You will also be issued with a notice saying that an application will be made for a football banning order.
Hence, a quick ‘chat’ down the police station has turned into your fingerprints and DNA being taken, charge and court date, a home curfew and potential football banning order. It sounds extreme but unfortunately in relation to football fans it’s the same thing I am hearing week after week.
I represent football fans who are charged with football and non football offences and who find themselves in court. When I tell people about the work that I do, most say.. ‘oh football hooligans’ and that is often followed by comments such as ‘ I bet you get a lot of Millwall fans’. The reality is quite different, most of the people I represent have never been arrested before and have no links to violence, they couldn’t be further from the ‘hooligan’ tag if they tried. Likewise, the majority of my work does not come from Millwall fans. The Home Office figures which are published every year on arrests at football matches show that in 2014/15 season in the Championship League Millwall FC fan arrests were much lower than Derby County FC or Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Sadly the reputation of Millwall FC in the media, which doesn’t reflect the huge community work of the club or the amazing work and achievements of Millwall Kicks, means that anytime there is a suggestion that Millwall fans have been suspected of disorder at football the media are quick to promote the photos provided by the police or club of those who are believed to have been involved, and are slow to remove them from websites once the person has been identified. This reputation also carries to the court room, and I notice that as soon as the court hears that a football fan is a Millwall FC fan, there are lots of knowing nods by the magistrates, as if to say …’well that is no surprise.’
I cannot say that if you seek legal advice you won’t be charged with an offence and convicted and end up with a football banning order, but with good legal assistance your chances of this not happening are greatly increased. And the sooner you obtain legal assistance the better as it may mean that the negotiations with the police can be carried out prior to a trip to the police station, or before a trial at court. I work closely with Melanie Cooke, a solicitor specialising in football fan cases, and many of our cases do not reach trial due to the negotiations we are able to carry out beforehand. My advice is that if your photograph has been published in the media, you contact myself or Melanie Cooke and work out the next steps.
Finally, social media is the new investigatory tool for the media and some police officers. Anything you put on a social media account is on the internet forever, and may come back and haunt you. My advice is that if your photo is published in the press, lock down or close down your social media account for a while. A photo of a football fan being chased by the police as a profile picture may seem funny, but when it is shown to non football fan magistrates, it takes on a whole new meaning!
The Chelsea Paris Metro incident is a prime example of how people who did nothing more than stand on a metro train had their lives dragged through the mud due to the postings they had made on social media. Many of those identified by the press were not suspected by the police of being involved in the incident, yet they were still identified by the press as Chelsea fans, had their social media postings published, and under a banner headline which said ‘Chelsea Racists’ with a tiny disclaimer at the bottom of the page which said that not all of those in the photo may have been involved in the incident, and who reads the small print?
So, although this might seem like self promotion, the moral of this blog is .. if the police or media want to speak to you.. the only word which should come out of your mouth is ‘lawyer’. Trust me, in the long run, the less a fan’s mouth runs away with them when speaking to the police or media, the better the outcome.
Follow me on twitter @gurdena
I can be contacted on 07941 212357 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie Cooke can be contacted on 07834 483092 or email@example.com
Were you in Paris in February 2015 for the PSG v Chelsea FC match?
Did you drink in Belushi’s (St Christopher’s Inn) before the match?
Were you part of the group walking to the Metro at Gare de Nord to catch the Metro to the Stadium?
Were you on the Metro train on which the incident too place?
Over the past two days the Metropolitan Police Service’s application for a football banning order against four Chelsea fans, following an incident in Paris in February 2015, has been heard in court. The judge has reserved judgment on the applications, and I do not intend, at this stage, to comment on the application or the incident in Paris.
This application has drawn media attention from around the World, and the press have made an application for all video footage shown during this case to be disclosed. The judge has said that he will make a decision next week on whether this video should be disclosed. I am pre-empting that decision incase the judge does decide to permit the press to have a copy of the video. Following a case in 2013 (which was not football related) the courts are expected to make available, to the press, copies of evidence aired in court unless there are good arguments against it.
The video has already been described by the press reporting during the two day hearing and it is clear that there are many Chelsea fans recorded on the video, their faces are clearly seen, and they will be identifiable by people who know these fans. Although the Metropolitan Police Service has not suggested that all those fans on the video are behaving disorderly, the press have already reported the fact that the Metropolitan Police Service has made much of the fact that fans did not disassociate themselves from the group, and that this was a large, intimidating group of Chelsea fans made up almost entirely of risk supporters.
I have concerns that if the video is released to the press, many Chelsea fans on the video may find that they are the subject of press scrutiny, or may find that their employers, family or friends question their involvement. Many fans may not even know that they are considered risk supporters by the police. With this in mind, I ask that Chelsea fans seriously consider any comments they make on social media over the next few days, particularly on open accounts which are easily identifiable, and which the press and employers can easily check. A comment or photo on social media can easily be misinterpreted or twisted, as was seen in some of the press reporting immediately following the incident in Paris.
If the video is disclosed, and any Chelsea fans have concerns about the fact they are identifiable on the video, please contact myself (@gurdena on Twitter; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Melanie Cooke (@cookemelanie on Twitter)
June 2015 Travel Restrictions on Anyone on Football Banning Order and the Power Struggle of the UK Football Policing Unit
Once again, its coming up to time when football fans in England who are on a football banning order are placed under a restriction of their liberty for no other reason than the National team are playing overseas.
There are two matches coming up, the Ireland v England friendly match on 7th June 2015 and the Euro 2016 qualifier Slovenia v England on 14th June 2015. What this means for fans on a football banning order is that they have to hand in their passports to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015, and also have to report to their designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June 2015. Just when that reporting period ends, the next one starts. Fans have to hand in their passports to the police on 9th or 10th June and they can’t be collected until after the match on 14th June 2015.
For many fans, unless they have plans to travel between the 2nd and 15th June 2015, it is probably an easier deal to just leave their passports at the police station until after the 15th June. However, this is a huge restriction on their liberty.
An even bigger restriction on a fan’s personal life and freedom of movement is the reporting restriction on 7th June 2015. The reason the UK Football Policing Unit has put these restrictions in place is because it is possible to travel to Ireland on a driving licence, and the legislation does not permit the UKFPU to require a fan to hand in their driving licence. But let’s face it, fans who are on the police radar will be spotted at the airport or port anyway as they are well known to the football officers, who will be loitering around at all major airports and ferry terminals.
It is questionable whether this isn’t just the UK Football Policing Unit asserting its authority. An authority which has always kept itself below the radar. As a lawyer dealing with football fan cases, it has become increasingly difficult to deal with the UKFPU. It will not engage in communications about fans’ bans, and rarely responds to queries. So why has it suddenly decided to poke its head above the parapet. Call me a cynic but suddenly articles written by the UKFPU are being published in the media, and the newspapers are being fed stories which are are being printed to try and persuade the public that football hooliganism is on the increase and that if we are not careful it will go back to the ‘Dark Days’. This is nothing more than UKFPU spin, the Home Office statistics for the past few years have shown that incidents of football violence are low, compare that to incidents of violence on a Friday and Saturday night in the town centers around England.
It’s a shame that the UKFPU doesn’t think about the impact its reporting restrictions are having on those fans who work on Sundays, who usually take their kids swimming on Sunday morning, or who had plans to take the family away for the weekend. And the reality is that, in certain areas of the country a fan can sign on just after 10am and still catch a flight to Dublin in time for kick off, or shortly after. This reporting restriction will achieve nothing in relation to those fans (if there are indeed any) who are determined to go to Ireland and cause trouble, but will no doubt give the UKFPU some extra brownie points when it is applying to the Government for its next round of funding so that its staff can travel around the World promoting the UKFPU. Why let the right of movement of hardworking fans get in the way of that?
Just to clarify, if you are on a football banning order, you must hand in your passport to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015 and report to your designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June. You can collect your passport on 8th June 2015, but you must hand it in on the 9th or 10th June 2015 for the next control period, and cannot collect until 15th June 2015.
If you do not see the football officer when you hand in your passport or you report, always make sure you get a receipt to say that you have attended, even if it is just a handwritten note signed by the officer you have spoken to, and the time and date.
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.
The media and social media outpouring of hatred towards the Chelsea fans who are alleged to have been racist towards a passenger on the Paris Metro has again opened up the wider attitude that the media and much of the public have towards football fans.
I have watched the video, which has gone viral, and on the face of it, it shows a black male being pushed off of the Metro train a few times by some white males who have been identified as Chelsea fans. There is also singing which appears to be either identify the fans as racist or as one fan has told the media, as a song about John Terry and his acquittal of a racism charge.
Its not the video that concerns me, in due course, the police will no doubt identify those fans who were doing the pushing and the singing and apply for Section 14b Football Spectators Act football banning orders on them. These orders can be applied for in the English Magistrates Court, they are civil, and will not amount to criminal charges, and have a lesser burden of proof.
The fear is that the police will apply for orders on anyone who is identified as being near the doors of that carriage. I have appealed decisions of the Magistrates Court ordering Section 14b civil football banning orders for 3 years on fans for doing nothing more than standing in a train carriage holding a bottle of beer and wearing a football scarf. Fortunately the Crown Court usually sees sense and overturns the ban, but not before the fan has been outed as a ‘hooligan’. This can have grave consequences on their lives, such as loss of jobs, promotion, or college course, none of which they can get back when their football banning order is overturned.
Unlike the assertion of the Press, some other commentators and even the Met Police, it is not possible for criminal charges to be brought against the fans in the English courts. And therein lies the problem… None of the fans who were on that Metro carriage and who had their photo taken, will be given the opportunity to have the allegations made against them aired in court in front of a jury. Certain people are already being identified by the press as ‘thugs’ and ‘racist’ when in actual fact the video shows nothing more than them standing on the Metro train. The social media fury has turned into a witch hunt and a lynchmob, and people who have not been charged with any offences have had their details taken from their social media accounts and published around the World. Try telling an employer that the fact your name, face, and where you work is plastered on the front page of a tabloid is all a bit of a misunderstanding.
Social media is now the new judge and jury. Twitter users are calling for a 17 year old to ‘hand himself in’ after he gave an interview in which he said he was in the Metro train carriage. Worse still there are some very vile and abusive comments being posted about him, by professional adults, the very people who are taking such a stance against racist abuse are themselves abusing in another form, and that makes them no better than anyone who has carried out racist abuse.
I always inform football fans who are facing criminal charges that unfortunately, as they are a football fan, they are guilty until proven innocent, and this has never been more evident than what I have seen tonight in the newspapers, tv and social media. All of a sudden everyone has a comment on racist football fans..especially if it comes with a slot on national tv, or a photo in the national press.
One of the first things I ask fans I represent is for them to pass me their social media account details. What they may think is football banter, others may decide is offensive. I am giving that warning to all Chelsea fans tonight, if your Facebook, twitter or instagram accounts are open to the public, be sure there is nothing on there which can be twisted by the press. I have dealt with cases in the past where the family members of a fan have been threatened via Facebook for nothing more than being linked to the fan and an obvious family member. Don’t for one minute think that the populist media will not troll your Facebook account to find out what they can and use it to their advantage.
This furore will die down in a couple of days and the media will have moved onto something else, and the twitter users who have trolled the 17 yr old fan will go back to posting funny videos of cats. The damage that may be done to a fan who has been outed may not go away so easily. An employer will not overturn a suspension or a dismissal due to the fact the media attention has died down, a fan’s children will still face the prospect of cyber bullying from those with nothing better to do.
All I ask is that if you are a Chelsea fan you protect yourself and think long and hard about what you post on social media in the next few days, and if you have open accounts, it may be wise to make them private for a few days. If you are one of the twitter lynchmob, please think carefully about what you are posting as you may be ruining the lives of people you have never met, are never likely to meet, and who have caused you no harm.
“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.