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
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.
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.