Two Newcastle fans in their late teens are watching their team play, writes Amanda Jacks. An equalising goal is scored and thanks to a surge of jubilant supporters – they find themselves momentarily on the pitch, hauled off by stewards before being handed over to waiting police officers.

The two lads, never arrested before, are charged with pitch incursion. The police duly apply for a football banning order (FBO). The pair put their hands up in court to their brief celebratory pitch incursion and – thanks to a decent lawyer and sensible magistrates – the right decision was made. No banning order was made. The magistrates appreciated that they were not going to repeat their behaviour and had learnt a salutary lesson from their unpleasant time down the station.

But the story doesn’t end. A few weeks later, both rang me up in a blind panic. The CPS was appealing the decision of the court not to grant a banning order. Our unlucky pair had no previous history of trouble at football, no previous arrests, yet were deemed to pose such a risk of future violence that the refusal of the magistrates to grant a FBO had to be challenged in the Crown Court. And so it was.

Back to court for the couple to oppose the appeal – and several thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money later – they left court as they had left the magistrates’ court. No banning order made and no doubt a Crown Court Judge wondering why on earth such a case made it into his court.

Draconian
Of course, I want troublemakers to be kept out of football. Football does not need them or want them. But, frankly, don’t always believe the hype – ‘football hooligan banned’ is a sexier headline than ‘fan got merry and pays a heavy price’.

You may correctly assume that FBOs are designed to stop ‘hooligans’ travelling abroad during tournaments. Certainly the press ahead of the Euro’s or the World Cup would confirm that they do indeed prevent those ugly – but thankfully historic – scenes that, even if you’re no lover of the game, you’re surely familiar with. However, you may not know quite how draconian the terms of the banning orders can be and how they affect supporters domestically.

Police at Charlton Athletic for home fixture against Crystal Palace (FSF)

All of those subjected to them will be prevented from attending regulated football matches in the UK (including the Olympics), the vast majority will have to surrender their passport to police ahead of overseas games involving club and/or country. They will be excluded from a large radius of a football ground for anything between two to six hours before kick off and a similar period after the final whistle and could find themselves barred from using the rail network on a day their club is playing. In other words for the best part of at least three years (minimum term of a FBO), subjected to a very prescriptive set of rules, which if broken can result in arrest for the criminal offence of ‘breaching’ a FBO.

Breaches that can result in prison sentences.

What the occasionally over-excitable media neglects to mention is that not everybody serving an FBO actually follows their club or country overseas. Not many media reports tell their readers that banned football supporters do not automatically arise from convictions for violence? The police themselves are not overly quick to publicise this little known fact, so understandably an impression that all banned football supporters have a propensity for violence, is easily generated.

Despite Home Office Guidance clearly stating:

‘[For] an order to be issued, it must be proved that the accused person has caused or contributed to football-related violence or disorder and that an order will prevent them from misbehaving further… orders are not imposed on people solely on the basis of minor convictions such as alcohol offences or similar misdemeanours.’

It is our experience that regardless of the charge, the CPS will apply for a banning order as ‘policy’ upon conviction. If a conviction is avoided, as can sometimes happen in the case of supporters who have no previous cautions or convictions, then no application for a football banning order arises. An example of this would be if the case is disposed of by way of a caution back at the police station, or a bindover, usually negotiated by the supporter’s lawyer at court.

Click FSF case statistics for a sample of the cases we were involved with over a short period earlier this year.

The latest statistics issued by the Home Office for football related arrests show that in the 2011/2012 season and in all competitions, there were 273 arrests for violent disorder, 765 for public disorder (not broken down further), 800 for alcohol offences and 107 for ticket touting.

Disposal figures are not released but, based on our experiences, it would not unreasonable to hypothesise that if all those arrests led to charges, convictions and subsequent successful banning order applications then only a relatively small proportion would be granted for offences including violence and disorder.

So, the next time you see a headline about ‘an army of yobs’ being prevented from travelling to follow club or country, it will include those who have not caused or contributed to violence but may have had ‘one too many’ – or perhaps suggested rather too vehemently that an opposing fan be on his way.

Many supporters tell us after arrest that had they behaved similarly away from football (for example, in town on a Saturday night) the police would have done little more than move them on or offer ‘words of advice’ rather than arrest. This might be anecdotal; but we hear the same story on a regular basis from supporters around the country.

The Home Office statistics tell us that 2,750 fans are currently serving FBOs. We don’t have a break down of those figures but, as of October last year, 2,681 supporters were given post-conviction FBOs and 488 were ‘civil’ FBOs.

Those civil FBOs are granted by magistrates (or district judges) after application by the Chief Constable where fan lives resides. Supporting evidence can be up to 10 years’ old and until the summons lands on the door mat, many fans are unaware that they have been categorised as a  ‘risk supporter’ and might even have been under surveillance for some time. Some have never even been arrested before, or even ejected from a football match.

We have seen a significant variation in the quality of applications with the solicitor acting for the fans successfully arguing some should be withdrawn. Yet we are also aware of other applications that contain evidence of alleged criminal offences that should have seen the supporter arrested at the time rather than have such evidence used in a civil application.

The FSF is the national supporters’ organisation for all football fans from England and Wales comprising more than 200,000 individual fans and members of local supporters’ organisations from every club in the professional structure and beyond. Fans can join the FSF free of charge and it only takes a few minutes, simply visit: www.fsf.org.uk/join

 

Profile photo of Jon Robins About Jon Robins
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award

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