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Illegal police activity is destroying football in England

In what was (I think) Leicester’s final season in the EPL we drew 1-1 with them away.  Gilberto scored.  I got very angry.

I was angry because I found myself being filmed by the police for no reason other than the fact that I was in the Arsenal section of the crowd.    My view was that there was no reason for the police to film me, and certainly no right for the club to film me without warning me and having good reason to believe that a crime was liable to be committed.

After the game I  wrote three times to the police and the club asking for an explanation of their action, detail of the legal framework in which they were operating, and a complete assurance that my pictures were not being held.  They never replied, and I let it go.

Last season I got worked up again leaving the Cup match in Cardiff.  The usual stream of fans were leaving the ground when a young copper with a camera came along not more than a foot behind an Arsenal fan, filming him.  If it is possible to get aggressive with a camera, this copper was aggressive with a camera.

To my shame I didn’t take the matter up with South Wales Police, although I did make fun of the whole policing situation at that game in a scene in Making the Arsenal.   It wasn’t much, but it helped me feel a bit better.

I have no legal background but I think this is what might be called “unwarranted intrusion” and as a citizen whose greatest crime against the state was driving with an insecure load in 1982 I really do object to it.

As such I am delighted to say that the  Football Supporters Federation has fought long and hard on this issue.  And in my own minor way I have covered it before, when the police started arresting Arsenal supporters at Tottenham on suspicion that they were about to cause an affray (the evidence being those damned red and white scarves).

You’ll also be able to read here and in many other places stories of the horrific treatment of Sunderland fans who were attacked by the police at a station, and who have never been able to clear their names despite seemingly widespread evidence that it was not they who were to blame.

As a piece in the Guardian said recently, “It’s clear that if we applied the laws and regulations that football supporters tolerate every Saturday to society in general we would have a very good idea of a dictatorial regime where individual rights count for nothing.”

The problem is that in football if you are accused as a supporter you are guilty by association – with football.  Actions that mean nothing in the rest of life are cause to give you a criminal record and a banning order – including a ban on travel overseas, and all because of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 which the police have taken on with a vengence.  It is in short a route to conviction without the proof that any offence has been committed.  It also by-passes the Human Rights Act because you are not guilty of any offence.

The FSA has come up with a number of cases where police have issued vast numbers of “Section 27” orders under the Violent Crime Reduction Act  to stop hundreds or thousands of fans attending a game.  Manchester police are well known for this and have actually once apologised for their actions using Section 27.

Of course I have people say to me, “what does it matter that they’ve taken your photo if you’ve done nothing wrong?”   My answer – which has nothing to do with football, but which is relevant since Section 27 is used in connection with my desire to attend numerous high-profile games each year – is that evidence, like laws, will always be misused.   Take one simple case: so odd and bizarre that it looks impossible, but it is true.   (And I have deliberately chosen an example which is both huge and as far from football as you can get, just to make my point about the dangers.)

The government felt that the Icelandic government should refund all the UK citizens who lost money through investing in Icelandic banks.  The Icelandic government said no, it is not our responsibility, our laws clearly state that it is the responsibility of the investor to ensure that his/her investment is safe.

So the UK government seized the assets of Icelandic companies in the UK.  This of course was wholly illegal, but the government made it legal by using the terrorism laws.   In other words the UK declared that Iceland was a terrorist state, and so the UK could seize their assets.

I don’t think you ever need to have been to Iceland to know that Iceland is about as far from being a terror state as it is possible to be.

And what connects Iceland, banks, the terrorism act and football is this.  The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is highly controversial but was pushed through parliament on the grounds that it would only be used against obvious terror-supporting “failed” states.

Like Iceland.

So, if you are still with me, my point is this.   If the government is willing to use anti-terror laws in a wholly inappropriate way against a friendly nation, what chance do you or I have to get justice when the common practice is to get conviction without proof under the Football Disorder Act.

In my 20s I spent a year living in a state that had no right to free speech, and no democratic system.  I learned to walk quietly with my head down, to dress neutrally, and to keep dead still when addressed by a police officer.  Walking to a football ground is not as bad as that now, of course, but I long ago abandoned wearing the red and white when walking to an away ground.  Just for my own safety.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010.

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15 comments to Illegal police activity is destroying football in England

  • Gf60

    Come to SA for the world cup Tony…and wear a scarf/hold a banner. Just bring ear plugs to protect against the one million hornets sound generated by a couple of “Vuvuzelas”. This like the plastic trumpet you buy for a kid (whose parents you actively dislike) for Christmas. It’s just 10 times larger and noisier.

  • LRV

    You are absolutely right Tony. Why should the police take & keep people’s pictures or film clips without informing the people concerned about their rights?

    I don’t think anyone should trust the police keeping unnecessary evidence about them. Just remember the fate of the Guildford guys who were found to have been set up by the police after spending 25 years in jail. Even if they may have done other things in the past, should they have spent 25 years of their lives jail for a crime committed by other people? How did the police manage to rope in FOUR completely innocent people? That is why no one must allow the police to keep anything about them that is not absolutely necessary.

    I would get my lawyer on the case sharpish, and would not mind seeking a court injunction against them, if they took my pictures in a similar manner.

  • Rhys Jaggar

    I think there are few, few things which should rest higher than free speech and innocent until guilty. But there are grey areas.

    We went into Iraq on a false prospectus and, we are now told, successfully ‘installed’ ‘democracy’. We did it by killing 100,000+ Iraqis, destroying their infrastructure, failing to stop mad terrorists infiltrating the country and generally used so many munitions with phosphorous and uranium in them that now women in Fallujah are told not to breed because too many children with gross deformities (too many limbs, too many heads etc etc) are being born. I can tell you for a fact as a trained scientist that the science is not in doubt about teratogens (those things which damage foetuses)…..phosphorous and uranium are seriously nasty things….

    Of course, if your children were now in exile and you were 50+, the war would bring something tangible without destroying your family. So it is clear that for some there would be apparent benefits.

    But if you were in your 20s, the decision is less clear cut. Would you rather remain with the despot holding the factions together, continue your bloodline and hope for enlightenment in centuries to come, or would you risk being wiped out as a bloodline so that others could do so instead??

    Grey, grey area that, Tony. Not one I would feel comfortable proclaiming certainty on………

  • Steve D.

    I’m a little surprised at today’s subject and taking the comments into consideration, I’m not sure who you’re blaming. If it’s the government, fine, but you can hardly blame the Police for Iraq. I’m also astounded that someone would bring up a 40-year-old miscarriage of justice. Evidence and procedures have moved on, as well as the introduction of new laws, e.g. PACE Act 1984, which should prevent such mistakes in the future, although no system is foolproof.

    Tony – every inch of the crowd is filmed at premier league matches and has been for a long time. There are CCTV cameras and handhelds everywhere inside and surrounding the grounds, as well as at railway and bus stations and at motorway services. They’re absolutely everywhere nowadays, and this acts as much to protect the innocent as it does to convict the guilty.

    You also know from your journalism that there are no restrictions against you filming whatever you want in public, unless it involves terrorism or children. Therefore, you have no right to stop the Police filming the crowd. It’s done so that should a major incident occur, i.e. murder, serious assault, or another Hillsborough, witnesses, victims, suspects, chains of evidence, etc, etc, can be identified. It is also used to track known hooligan groups etc. If the game passes without incident, the pictures are recorded over – do you really think the Police have enough money, space, and motive to keep pictures of crowds for ever. If you do, you’re giving them too much credit.

    Surely as a responsible football fan, you should be giving the Police and the club every assistance in helping to prevent the above, identify and charge offenders and learn lessons from mistakes. I’m sure I heard you espouse the anti-racism campaign – how do you think the Police gather the evidence to prosecute people in the crowd throwing bananas and shouting racist abuse?

    You’re obviously upset, and I can certainly empathise with you regarding the manner that too many Police officers conduct their duties these days. Please however realise that the large majority are striving to do the best job possible under difficult circumstances and that photography is currently one of their best evidential tools.

  • Tom Harbord

    A really really excellent article, well done. I only recently discovered this site and I’m glad I did!

    Anyway, the state of individual rights, liberty and basic freedoms in this country is eroding so fast is palpably horrifying. There’s a really unnerving air of utilitarianism amongst our politics and society in general which is leading us down dangerous paths. It is so evident from literally every state that has ever existed, that if you leave unchecked powers, they WILL be abused. These issues in footbal are the tip of the iceberg. I have had friends who have run for trains being stopped by the police and searched under the Terrorism Act. Iceland and British citizens will all suffer under this travesty.

    As for the Football (Disorder) Act you alluded to, I was not aware of it, but it sounds a serious violation of Art 6 European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a fair trial). This country really has a staggering disregard for fundamental rights. I’m not even on a party political rant. The Tories will almost certainly be much worse. Cameron has in the past stated he would like to repeal the Human Rights Act!!! Just to summarise what this means: Britain will pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights and take away one or more of the basic rights we helped to draft after the Second World War. I’m not talking about the right to carry bombs, I’m talking about the right to a fair trial, the right to private life, the prohibition of torture and slavery! Cameron has since been quiet on the issue, but its amazing the press haven’t picked him up on it recently.

    Sorry for the rant, but some of what you said set off whole chains of thought and anger. As you said we’re not living in a real authoritarian state, but could you imagine the excesses we might see if we really were at war or in a state of emergency?

  • paul

    I cant see a problem in the police using the cameras for security reasons if it means that all fans are treated the same and it is done for safety reasons to ensure they get home safely or its done in the ground to pick out those who might contribute to crowd trouble. I went through the battle grounds in the 80s and survived but would not have wanted to take my children to a game back then. I now do and one of the reasons is because i weigh up if its safe to go to a game. The police to a cracking job in the presence of so many fans and the way the marshall fans out of grounds is fantatstic. There will always be an individual fan or member of the police force who will potentially be a problem but look at the wider picture of safety and im sure you will agree they do it in the best interests of everyone. If you dont cause trouble you have nothing to hide and if anything is caught on camera it could prove your innocence aswell.

  • Clerkenwell Gooner

    Interesting article, Tony.

    I saw the police filming Cardiff City boys at the Emirates, and it did cross my mind that it was all a little bit Tom Cruise – not the one in our reserves, alas, the one who clutched Samantha Morton to his breast in ‘Minority Report’.

    On a related issue, anyone in England who’s interested in the security of their NHS medical data might also be interested in opting out of having that put onto a national database that’ll be accessible to non-medical personnel.

    Records are set to be moved onto the databse apparently before the end of this month.

    Henry Porter on Opting-out of NHS Spine

    The article includes a link to the NHS form to opt out, which you can hand in/post to your GP.

    I’m just about to post mine.

  • Perry Grove

    You’re a crackpot, Tony.

    Keep ’em coming!

  • Of course for anyone who thinks there is nothing to worry about, that’s a matter for that individual.

    But, I do have fears. If you remember the issue of the Sunderland fans who returned from a friendly in Scotland to be (as they allege) attacked by the police, only to find that all the CCTV evidence of the situation had been “lost” you might worry. When you read that a Magistrate then said that the evidence that was “found” was inadmissable to the hearings, that might cause further worry.

    And I got a bit worried today when, on going to the Guardian web site to find the original story, found it was still highlighted in Google, but “unavailable”.

    There is another source…

    http://www.joinmust.org/forum/showthread.php?t=61612

    I suppose I am worried because I have also been following the DNA story. We have been told by police and the like that DNA is the perfect evidence. One in a billion chance of a DNA match to a crime scene leading to a false prosecution.

    Except that if you read New Scientist you will know that there is every reason to think that the chance of your DNA being the same as that of another person is not one in a billion, but probably one in 10,000. So there are six people in the Emirates sharing a DNA profile with me.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527424.700-unreliable-evidence-time-to-open-up-dna-databases.html?full=true

    Anyway, that was the background to me writing the piece – but we are wandering far from football, and I’ll publish another piece by Walter in a moment, and I’ve been pulling together a rather interesting set of facts about clubs’ incomes for next season…

  • Paul C.

    I have to agree with Steve D. on this one. Tony, surely you can remember going to football matches in the 70’s and 80’s. I certainly can. Arsenal was always great, but many other grounds were like war zones. I worked in the City at that time and you could never tell anyone you were a football supporter because you’d get a reputation as a hooligan (now of course you are a loser in the City if you DON’T support football – how times changed). If a few cameras and some overbearing policing is the price to pay for what we have now, as compared to what we had in the 70’s and 80’s, then I will take the police walking behind me filming me.

    We as fans couldnt police our sports by ourselves. We failed miserably. The government and police have helped us to get the sport we love back. I think a bit of intrusive filming is worth that bargain.

  • Sean

    Stockport County, Cardiff City, Stoke City, Bristol City, Chesterfield…..just some of the places where I’ve been filmed. About ten years ago a train load of us (both sexes, all ages) actually had to stand in front of a police camera at Chesterfield station and give our name and address!
    Scandalous, and one of the reasons that I rarely travel away now.

    I’ve thought about writing to Barnet this summer to suggest that when a poorly supported team comes down (Morecambe, Accrington, Macclesfield all bring under a hundred) segregation could be scrapped for the day.
    Why not?
    Would the police allow it?
    Do you think it could ever work?

  • Paul C.

    Sean – as someonbe who grew up in North America, I think it is a shame that there is segregation of fans. It would great if there wasnt. But I can totally understand the police saying no. What would happen if there was trouble?

    I think it could work with some fans, but not with others. That is the problem. You must have one rule, and just as that means some innocent people getting filmed, it also means EVERYONE having to deal with segregation. Once again, as fans we brought this upon ourselves through our inability to police our grounds by ourselves in the 70’s and 80’s. Thousands stood silently (and sometimes not so silently) as a couple of hundred idiots ruined it for us all, and that inaction ultimately led to people dying. I am as guilty as anyone, I saw it happening and I did nothing. I was too scared, as most of us were.

    I dont blame the police for their attitude. Football, its clubs and its fans, did nothing about hooliganism for thirty years and ultimately policemen got blamed for Hillsborough. They never want to be blamed for anything like that again.

  • Finsbury

    ‘Harmless Intrusive filming’ that requires face recognition software?

    The Olympics will take things to a whole new level, just search ‘Surveillance Beijng 2008’.
    You’ll get confused if you type CCTC, as the Chinese state broadcaster is also called, erm, CCTV. There is a strong link between the Surveillance Industry and sporting events.

    Not so much Tom Cruise in Minority Report (based upon a Philip K.Dick novel) but more akin to William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, of course Dick would’ve been one of Gibsons’ heroes.

    I used to think that ‘Neuromancer’ was just a Bible for Goths and trainee Hackers, but it was way, way ahead of it’s time.

  • Finsbury

    You’ll get confused if you type CCTC < You’ll get confused if you type CCTV

  • DannyG

    Great article & wholeheartedly agree, what better way for Police to hone their supposed counter terrorism skills than with football supporters. The ridiculous blanket rounding up of totally innocent football fans for no other reason than being football fans & then pressing pathetic charges so they can achieve banning orders & justify the huge costs.

    Having been in a similiar situation recently where being warned there was CCTV on a train & it would be used against me & other fans it mysteriously never materialised. Took 13 months to get to court on joke charges with witnesses & old bill who never turned up to court despite putting in complete works of fiction as statements. Whole case chucked out after 2.5 days, what a complete waste of public money, all for being football fans & being in the wrong place at the wrong time. God Bless British justice, or rather a judge who obviously recognised what a farce the whole thing was!