No really, are you a football fan, or a potential criminal?

15 05 2013

I don’t normally interact with the law-talking community but last Friday, thanks to twitter, I was able to read a letter written by 2012′s “Bar Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year”, Alison Gurden. Twitter can be really good sometimes. The letter shows us how the ticket restrictions for the Crystal Palace v Brighton play off semi-final, something  I wrote about the other week, may contravene existing laws.

Just after I discovered the letter I discovered Alison’s  blog .The blog highlights the serious legal issues that football fans may have to deal with so it’s a usefully sobering read. Alison has plenty of experience dealing with football related cases and while it’s good that there are people who can help fans with legal expertise it’s worrying that so many individuals are charged with various offences.

The draconian rules regarding Crystal Palace v Brighton tickets subtly hint that Britain’s police may not particularly like football fans, the cases that Alison highlights in her blog hint a little more forcefully. For example there are times when it looks as though the police want to infringe the civil liberties of football fans;

Can the Police retention of information on football fans breach a fan’s right to privacy?

Are you a football fan?

Have you been

  • given a section 27 dispersal notice?
  • filmed coming out of the train station?
  • stop searched on your way to a football match?

If yes,  your personal data is possibly being held by the Police.

What is meant by Personal Data?

Personal data can be anything which identifies you, so a record of your name, address, description, photographs or video footage all amount to personal data.

How is it held?

Most police force Football Policing Units keep an intelligence database on fans who are considered to be ‘risk fans’.  In other words, fans who are suspected of causing disorder.  In addition there is a nationwide database which contains information on public order and which contains details of some football fans activities, and the Police National Computer which contains information on all arrests, cautions, PNDs, convictions.  This data can be held for years, particularly as a football banning order can contain information going back up to 10 years.

S0 what does this mean for football fans?

If you have been involved in violence or disorder, or been cautioned or convicted of an offence then your data will definitely be held on the PNC and you cannot challenge this as you fall in to the same category as every other person who has been cautioned or convicted of an offence.  The PNC is in the process of being updated so that it can hold much more information, and I am sure that everyone reading this will accept that the Police should have a tool to assist in their investigations, and to prevent crime.

However, it is the retention of a football fan’s data merely due to the fact that they are a football fan which can be argued as being disproportionate.  If you are a fan who regularly attends football matches, have never been cautioned or convicted of an offence and have never been involved in disorder, is it fair that your data should be held by the Police?  For instance, some police forces have a practice of stopping fans as they come out of a convenience store, and asking them to stand against the wall so that they can be video’d to record what they are wearing.  Most are asked their names and addresses, and some are asked to roll up their sleeves to show any tattoos they may have.  The question then has to be, why is this data being taken in the first place as the fan has done nothing more than walk out of a shop with a can of soda in their hand, and secondly what happens to this recording – is it destroyed or retained?” (I highlighted these sentences in bold)

At other times it can seem as though there is a thrist to prosecute football fans.

With the exception of a few football fans, who I can also count on one hand, all of my clients say the same thing “I can’t believe this is happening to me, I have never been in trouble, I did nothing wrong’, and are mostly young lads in the twenties or men in their forties.   Examples of my recent cases include the 18 year old who was arrested outside the stadium due to having a smoke bomb in his pocket, which he had intended to let off after the match if his team won, and to celebrate his 18th birthday at the same time.  There was also a 35 year old fan who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a steward who grabbed the client’s 8 year old son by the collar and pushed him back to his seat. The father grabbed the steward’s arm to make him release the grip on his son. The son had run to the front of the stands to take a photo of the mascot.  The fan who was woken up at 6am by a police knocking on his door with a search warrant following a complaint by a steward that the fan had assaulted him.  It turned out that the steward had made the complaint because he believed his ex-wife was now in a relationship with the fan.

All of these cases were resolved before they got to the door of the court, and all resolved in favour of the fan, but required a lot of work behind the scenes. This work was done on legal aid.  If the Government’s legal aid plans come into force, none of these clients would be entitled to legal aid, they would have to find a lawyer to take on their case privately, and because the cases never made it to court, the client would not be able to recover their legal costs. In addition it saved a lot of court time, and CPS and Police costs that would have been incurred.”

You could argue that all law-abiding fans have nothing to fear but that’s what people say about the increased use of CCTV. There are obvious problems in the battle between law enforcement and civil liberties. Who’s watching the detectives? Can we trust the police to be impartial agents in the implementation of laws? The following accumulation of Police statements  indicates that the police may have pre-conceived ideas about football fans.

When I walked into the pub and spoke to Football Fan 1 and tried to engage in discussion about today’s game he ignored me.  I then saw him in a crowd chanting football songs as he walked to the ground.  When in the ground he sat in his seat initially but then moved to another seat showing complete disrespect to the stewards.  he was wearing a black Northface jacket which is the attire worn by many risk football fans at football matches…After the game he was seen to be giving hostile looks at some opposing team supporters as he stood outside the kebab shop, I then saw him go inside the off license and slam the door.  All of this leads me to believe that he is a risk supporter with no regard to the police or other fans.  His lack of engagement with the police show that he is anti-police, and his chanting in the street was in a residential area where women and children who were not attending the football match could have been present and could have been frightened and offended by the chanting and group mentality.”

The problem is not just that statements such as this constitute evidence for banning orders, it’s that statements such as this look as though they’ve been written in a less than impartial fashion; I detected a definite sense of “us and them” about this one.

This situation becomes even more troubling when you realize it’s not even a mere “us and them” confrontation, it’s an “us and them” confrontation of gross inequalities; the side that has the power to ensure banning orders seems to show ill-will towards the other side.  This doesn’t seem right from a legal, or a moral, perspective.

It’s difficult to know where to start unpicking the accumulation but let’s start with the uncomfortable idea that the Police target people on the basis of their appearance, the line; “he was wearing a black Northface jacket which is the attire worn by many risk football fans at football matches.”  Even if we disregard the horrifying historical parallels, the police might still be wrong. The person in question may have chosen this particular jacket because it would offer him some protection from the elements. Anyway, does North Face still have a place in the clobber of clued-up “lads””?

Why is “When in the ground he sat in his seat initially but then moved to another seat.” such a problem? What if he found himself near some irritating fans in his first seat? One would presume that there were enough empty seats, and if there were what’s the problem with moving?

Let’s turn to the lines “His lack of engagement with the police show that he is anti-police,” and “I then saw him go inside the off license and slam the door”. Are these lines incriminating evidence or an indication that the police are already looking for trouble? What if the door handle slipped out of the fan’s hand? How exactly does “His lack of engagement with the police” show that he is “anti-police” The problem seems to lie in the first line “When I walked into the pub and spoke to Football Fan 1 and tried to engage in discussion about today’s game he ignored me”.

So this person ignored a police officer ergo he’s “anti-police“. The accumulation doesn’t tell us if the police officers were actually a little too aggressive in his friendly manner, or if they interrupted an interesting conversation. It doesn’t tell us if he’d had a negative experience with the particular police officer in the past, especially as there’s an implication that they know each other.

From the accumulation it would appear that the police officer, or officers, aren’t aware of the effect that police officers have when they turn up unannounced in the middle of a pub of football fans. Whenever it has happened to me, yes even Bangor City matches are policed, it’s always felt a little intimidating. Even when they adopt a ”friendly manner” with outgoing conversation and the like it’s still intimidating.

This kind of behaviour is nothing more than a vulgar display of power in order remind people who’s in control and who’s a potential criminal. I’d hate to think what would happen if somebody accidentally fell off their seat at the moment the police were walking around. It’s actually quite disgusting that football fans can’t be trusted to behave like normal functioning adults in a democratic society.

You may think I’m being tad unfair to the police, or you may be doubting whether they act on whims, or you may think that the fans are to blame because they act like idiots. Well if you’re turning into a doubting Thomas consider the use of “Section 27 of Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006”. In case you were unaware of Section 27…

 “(It) allows police to move someone from a specified area for a period of up to 48 hours. You do not actually have to have committed any offence for the act to be enforced. Section 27 gives police the powers to move anybody, from any place, at anytime, if they think there’s a possibility an alcohol related offence may be committed.” 

In 2008 roughly 80 Stoke fans were issued with a Section 27s.

“Policing of Stoke fans raises serious concerns

Frightening new police powers have emerged following the shocking treatment of Stoke City fans prior to their team’s away fixture with Manchester United last Saturday, November 15, 2008.

An estimated 80 Stoke supporters visited the Railway Inn pub in Irlam, Greater Manchester, on their way to Old Trafford. The pub was a natural stop-off point, being on en route to the stadium via the M6 and a local railway station. By all accounts that the Football Supporters’ Federation have heard it was a relatively quiet atmosphere, with little singing, never mind trouble.

However, at 1.15pm a number of officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) entered the premises and told fans they would not be allowed to leave the pub, would be forcibly taken back to Stoke, and not be allowed to visit Old Trafford.

Each supporter was then issued with a Section 27 from the Violent Crime Reduction Act of 2006. This allows police to move someone from a specified area for a period of up to 48 hours. You do not actually have to have committed any offence for the act to be enforced. Section 27 gives police the powers to move anybody, from any place, at anytime, if they think there’s a possibility an alcohol related offence may be committed.

Stoke City fan Lyndon Edwards, who is making a formal complaint to GMP and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was one of those in the pub: “I asked for it to be stated on the Section 27 form given that I was not intoxicated and that there was no evidence of any disorder on my part. This was refused so I refused to sign the form. I was told to sign it or I would be arrested. We were then loaded onto buses and had to sit there for what seemed like an eternity.”

“There were no football chants being sung at the Railway Inn and no evidence of disorder whatsoever. If there had of been we would have left the pub and made our way elsewhere.”

The Stoke supporters were then driven back in convoy to Stoke city centre, regardless of whether this was actually where they were from, without compensation of any sort.“I have spoken to a number of Stoke fans who were there and I am quite satisfied that they did absolutely nothing wrong, but they end being hauled back to Stoke against their will and missing the game,” said Malcolm Clarke, chair of the FSF and a Stoke City fan.

“They were treated very badly by the Greater Manchester Police. This new law gives the police a great deal of instant power which can severely affect the basic civil rights of football supporters, if they happen to be in the wrong pub or on the wrong train at the wrong time.

“If the police had any evidence that the people in that pub included some risk supporters, or people with banning orders, they should have taken appropriate action against those people alone. There can be no excuse for taking this draconian action against ordinary innocent supporters who happened to be using the same pub.”

“We are most concerned about how it is being used, and will be taking this up at the highest level.”

If you were one of the Stoke City fans who received this treatment please click here to read about how you can take it up with the relevant authorities.”

That’s not allThe Stoke City supporters said they were told to “urinate into cups” after officers banned them from the toilet at the pub in Irlam, Greater Manchester.” 

Fans of other clubs have also been affected by section 27;

“In December of last year, South Yorkshire Police used the same legislation to force a group of Plymouth Argyle supporters to leave Doncaster prior to their match against Doncaster Rovers. The South Yorkshire Star falsely accused them of being “known trouble-makers” but they were contacted by the FSF soon after the incident, who also took on their case. It has also been mentioned that supporters of Gillingham and Southend United have been on the wrong end of this illegal interpretation of the law.”

The police had to pay compensation for their suppression of the Stoke fans’ civil liberties.”Police payout after fans ‘locked in’ pub before match- and while this is welcome it’s an unnerving idea to think that the police can act like this in a democracy. Section 27 presumably is so elastic that it can be applied to other areas such as political demonstrations.

Football stadiums are safer places in the 21st century than in the 1970s or ‘80s yet the police still seek to criminalise football fans. British football was forced to tear down perimeter fences down after Hillsborough yet Britain’s police are still motivated by the impulses that led to their erection of fences.

I’m not claiming that football fans are all angels and I’m not saying that a situation that mixes thousands of people in close proximity, alcohol-induced lowering of inhibition and “The Banter” won’t result in a little “boisterousness”. I’m not even saying that football matches don’t present different security concerns from “normal” situations but there’s no excuse for such a draconian approach.


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