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
Last week Twitter’s laughing policeman, Constable Chaos posted his own impressions on his day of football policing Football Crazy . I have reblogged this below. While I can’t dispute what he says, because I wasn’t with him, his experience doesn’t reflect mine, nor the majority of police officers I speak to and who police football matches.
Most of his gripes seem to relate more to the fact he had his rest day cancelled, had to get up early to provide mutual aid, ad by virtue of the fact he was providing mutual aid he wasn’t familiar with the town, and he didn’t get a very clear briefing from the Match Command. My response to that is, I feel sympathy for cops who are now facing this on a daily basis in all levels of their duty, but that is not the football fans’ fault. As the Twitter hash tag says #cutshaveconsequences
In reality, hundreds of thousands of fans travel across the country every week to watch their team play football. And these hundreds of thousands of fans are policed by a handful of police officers, compared to the number of police required most Friday and Saturday nights in towns up and down the country.
In a recent case in which I was involved, the UK Football Policing Unit provided a statement in an attempt to show how football fans are hooligans. The statement covered a 6 week period and included all Premier League and Football League games, as well as a cup game at Wembley. In those 6 weeks there had been 8 incidents of disorder. Sounds bad? More than 1 incident a week? But when cross examined, the Director of the UK Football Policing Unit had to accept that during those 6 weeks there would have been 260 sets of travelling fans, home and away, and that would have accounted for more than a million individuals travelling to a football match. The 8 incidents don’t quite sound so bad now, do they? If I was to ask just one large Metropolitan force how many incidents of disorder they had recorded on a pay day Friday, I’m guessing that the answer would be a lot more than 8.
The problem is not the travelling football fans, it’s the way they are treated by the media, and the Government ( which then trickles down to the police in their policy implementation). Most football matches are either totally police free or have a very low police presence. I attended a match a couple of weeks ago, one police serial (12 officers), 2 football spotters from each club, and a football intelligence officer and match commander were the only police in attendance. None of those officers lost their rest day, or were on mutual aid, and they managed to police over 10000 fans, without a single incidence of trouble. But that doesn’t make good media coverage.
At a match at the end of last season, fans ran on the pitch in celebration of the result. They were not fighting, or being disorderly, but actually doing the same as the much celebrated England fans in 1966. The next day the newspaper reports had headlines such as ‘Return to the Dark Days of Football’. I can just imagine the first draft of the report saying ‘jubilant fans celebrate their club’s success’ and the Editor deciding that the headline didn’t have enough punch.. ‘I know…. Let’s get the Dark Days of Football headline out again, that always sells papers’.
The Reading Chronicle was forced to apologise to Reading fans last year. It published an article which indicated that Reading fans were thugs and that football required policing, otherwise the hooliganism of the 1980s would return. So weak was the story, that they had to use an actor for the staged photo of a person in a Reading FC shirt, covering their face and holding a stick. It has to be questioned why the newspaper bothered to run the front page article in the first place as it wasn’t in relation to any football events in Reading, but why publish the truth when fiction sells more papers.
A ‘risk supporter’ is a term that was created by ACPO many years ago, and has stuck ever since. Its current definition is ‘A person, known or not, who can be regarded as posing a possible risk to public order or anti-social behaviour, whether planned or spontaneous, at or in connection with a football event.’ In reality this means that anyone travelling in a large group, anyone singing football songs, or anyone drinking in a pub before the match can easily fall into that description, despite the fact they never have been involved in any football related disorder and probably never will be. Compare this with the pay day Friday in town, by 11pm at least half of those in town will fall into the risk category if there was a ‘risk reveller’ category. The person who is staggering in the street, the couple having a drunken argument, the usual jostling in the kebab shop queue, the lad denied access to a club or bar who swears at the doorman, and the Hen Do group singing a bad rendition of Beyoncé on the top of the night bus. Giving football fans the title of risk supporter is nothing more than scaremongering.. It makes the public and the courts think that these fans must be ‘hooligans’ as otherwise they wouldn’t be called ‘risk’.
Football policing is a self perpetuating way for the police forces to make money from the football clubs, justify putting more cops on the beat on a Saturday or Sunday, and provide figures to the Home Office every year to justify the existence of police football units. In some areas the football stadium is way out of town, on a leisure park. The Kassam Stadium in Oxford is a good example of this. Thames Valley Police wanted to charge Oxford FC for extra policing resources to patrol the leisure park car park. This wasn’t due to football fans breaking into the cars, as they were all in the football stadium watching the football, but it did mean that TVP could provide a greater police presence for the family taking the kids to Frankie and Benny’s on a Saturday afternoon.
If the briefing by the Match Commander was poor, then that should be taken up with the Force. The match briefings I have been to, and I have been to many, do differ between forces, but should all include the main explanations of the main pubs which will take the fans, whether they are home or away, the areas the serials are tasked to cover, the incident number on which every incident from that day’s policing should be recorded, and whether there is any intelligence about potential disorder. I have experience of poor match briefings which have resulted in the police marching a group of, so called, Away risk supporters to a pub, and then refusing to let them leave despite the fact it was the designated Home supporters pub. Yes, someone screwed up there, but it wasn’t the football fans. And despite the fact the two groups of ‘risk’ were forced to stay in the same pub, and alcohol was being served, there was no trouble.
We all have different match day experiences, clearly Chaos had a chaotic experience, but that’s not the fault of the football fans, and they shouldn’t be vilified for choosing a game which ignites the passions of billions of people around the World in a way that no other sport can.
Some of you may have seen my strongly worded tweets last week when the Reading Chronicle published it’s inflammatory, factually incorrect and misleading article suggesting that Reading FC fans (or at least a large contingent of them) are football hooligans and it is only due to the hard work of the police and the Reading FC management that it was all being kept under control. This was complimented by a staged photo of a person wearing a Reading FC shirt, a scarf wrapped around their face, carrying a piece of wood and looking ‘thuggish’.
Not only was the article poorly written and the journalist clearly hadn’t done his research as he seemed to be unaware of the Hillsborough developments over the past year, but it was also potentially very damaging to football fans.
Many of the inaccuracies in the article (and there are too many to mention) have already been addressed by other fans and journalists see Reading FC fan Jon Keen’s response http://thetilehurstend.sbnation.com/2014/3/20/5529246/tawdry-and-offensive-journalism-at-its-best and the Liverpool Echo’s article http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/reading-chronicle-issues-unreserved-apology-6861586
The suggestion that the reason there is no trouble at Reading FC is solely due to the police and Reading FC, is rubbish. It is suggested that the police have worked so well with the Club that police have not been required to police at many Reading matches. This shows a complete lack of awareness of football policing. The main thrust of football policing is identifying and managing risk supporters. The police charge a football club for all policing required inside the Ground and also on what is called ‘The Footprint’, the area surrounding the Ground where police identify that they need to be in attendance before, during and after the game. In the case of Reading, the Footprint is not very large due to the location of the Madejski Stadium being away from the town and major transport hubs. if there is any suggestion that there will be risk supporters in attendance at a match the police will insist on having officers inside the ground and on The Footprint. The Footprint can be a bone of contention with Clubs as they often have to pay heavily for the policing outside of the ground even when the Club considers there is no need. Leeds United FC challenged this footprint charging by West Yorks Police a few years ago in the High Court http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jul/24/leeds-united-win-police-costs I have spoken to Club Chairmen and Directors who often complain that effectively the Footprint is being used as an excuse to fund police overtime, and policing of the leisure parks and towns at a weekend.
The Reading Chronicle and Thames Valley Police have acknowledged that many of the Games were unpoliced (although I assume that the football intelligence officers and football spotters would have been in attendance still as they usually still attend a non-policed match). The significance of this is that the police football intelligence must have indicated that there would be no risk supporters at these matches and that all other fans are recognised as law abiding, and well behaved. Not the thugs and hooligans the Reading Chronicle would like them to be.
So why is the Reading Chronicle article likely to harm football fans if they are all law abiding?
Let’s face it much of the media and the general public have a dim view of football fans. The fact that an MP felt it appropriate to call football fans on a night out in Covent Garden, ‘Scum’ without checking his facts, shows the disrespect football fans face. The Met Police who were in attendance had no complaint about fan behaviour, and the trash that had been left behind by the fans was because the Borough removed most of the bins as part of its cost cutting measures.
The problem with the Reading Chronicle articles is that it can create ‘guilt by association’. Employers in the local area may check the social media of potential employees, and a fan who writes a tweet or a Facebook post about their trip to Reading FC on Saturday may be seen by the potential employer as a bit of a risk, they may be a hooligan. Cafés and bars in town may decide that they don’t want to serve a Latte to a fan incase they cause trouble. And so on…
If you think I am being sensationalist, consider this. I had a call a few weeks ago about a fan who had been arrested for drink driving. He pleaded guilty, and when the Crown Prosecution Service explained the facts, the first thing the court was told was that the driver was a football fan and a season ticket was found on him when he was arrested. In actual fact he was not driving from a match, but had gone home after the match, not having had a drink at the match, had gone out that evening to a friend’s house where he had drunk alcohol and caught a taxi home. He was arrested the next day as he drove to work and unknown to him he was slightly over the legal alcohol limit. The first question the Magistrates asked was whether they could make a football banning order on him. The case was even adjourned off so that the Crown Prosecution Service could enquire with the police about making a football banning application. What should have been a simple drink driving sentencing matter of a fine and disqualification from driving turned into a complete fiasco and a waste of a great deal of tax payers money due to the fact the driver was a football fan. Fortunately, in that case the solicitor for the driver and the football intelligence officer both agreed that it was nonsense for the court to consider a football banning order , but it is evidence of the attitude towards football fans.
My non football fan friends could not understand why I was so upset by the Reading Chronicle article…hopefully this now explains why.