By Tony Attwood
In such days there were some police on duty, because we had had problems at football matches since the earliest days. (Arsenal’s ground was closed in 1895, for example, following an incident involving the referee).
But there is no mention in today’s piece about who paid the police – in fact there is no mention about the police at all.
Today however the police, and who pays them, is a key topic. The general rule is that we, the tax payers, pay the police for doing their duty in public places and, (if the issue so demands) private houses, businesses and the like.
But the West Yorkshire police have been trying to change that. They want clubs in general, and Leeds United in particular, to pay for the policing on the streets around Elland Road, before and after games, given that it is the event at the ground which calls on the need for policing.
“No!” and quite probably “Woh there” cries the club. The events that require policing are not within Leeds’ ground but take place around the ground, and therefore the police should pay.
To claim that Leeds should pay would change the whole basis of the payment of policing, and could put an enormous strain on the finances of many clubs simply for doing what they are doing. “But,” say the police, “you are the people who cause us to be there.” “Oh no,” says the clubs, “you are the people who decide how many police you want. If you could then charge us you could put every copper who wanted overtime onto the streets, and charge us for it.”
Of course I am not really suggesting that the police would indeed put extra policemen on the streets before a game just to allow coppers to get some overtime payment, but it would be a case of the police deciding how many officers they want at a game and then submitting the bill.
Anyway, this battle has been raging on, and has already been to court once, where the court found that West Yorkshire Police were in the wrong, and could not charge the club.
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It is an issue of interest to Arsenal because Arsenal could have ended up paying for the police that barricade St Thomas’ on the way to Finsbury Park, and the coppers in and around the underground stations in general.
I’ve written before both about the Leeds case and about the lunatic fringe of young policemen who run around screaming at people having a quiet pre-match drink (although as I have also always said, the older wiser guys who police the area are generally helpful, reasonable and very much aware of their purpose.)
But the original court case threw up issues, such as the possibility of the police applying to reduce the number of spectators that can go in the ground not because of safety within, but because of safety outside the ground, given that they can’t afford to put many police in the streets.
After the first case the WY Police said, “We welcome the fact that the judge recognised the invidious position the force faces and the possibility of the force being unable to support the club’s existing match arrangements in the present economic climate.” In other words the police might oppose a licence for the match to be held on the grounds that they can’t afford to police it. Also the local authority could refuse permission for a game to be held if they felt that the police were unable to put in enough constables to control the event.
The judge in the first case also said there was no single drain on West Yorkshire Police’s resources greater than that of policing games at Leeds. Maybe those who muck about a bit too much could find themselves getting their club shut down.
And so now we have had the appeal and again West Yorkshire Police has lost again, which presumably is yet another drain on their finances not just for the court costs, but also because WY Police owe Leeds United about £1m that has been charged illegally to the club.
The Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, sitting with Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice McCombe, made it clear that the policing was to “maintain law and order and protect life and property in a public place,” and that means the police can’t charge the club.
So the case is over, for I can’t see the club going to the Supreme Court, given that their lordships said that basically the police didn’t even have a case to argue.
And that now means the police forces around the country might well fight back by starting to restrict the numbers of people who can go into a ground, not on the basis of ground safety, but in terms of the cost to the police of policing the streets after the match by paying overtime to the officers who attend the streets on match day.
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