Below is a transcript of Steve Powell’s talk at the Police session
Madam chair, ladies and gentleman, it’s a privilege and a pleasure for the Football Supporters Federation to have been invited to speak to the Convention today and I hope that at the end of my remarks you’ll see that what we have to report to you today is not the trivial concerns of people pursuing what after all in the last analysis is a hobby, but there’s another side: another aspect to what we’ve already heard from the speakers about the shooting at Stockwell tube station of a Brazilian citizen happily going about his business; the repression that we’re looking at of legitimate dissent and protest over environmental issues; and what we’ve heard about many rank and file police officers and their disquiet; and from my own personal experience, my father was a police officer for most of his working life and the reason he left the police earlier than he otherwise might have done – took early retirement – was how disturbed he was at the way policing was going from policing by consent to more and more repressive measures.
The first thing that I need to do today is to thank Liberty publicly, the human rights organisation, for coming to the defence of those football supporters who have recently been subject to a recent law called Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. The organisation Liberty’s swift response is a matter of great gratitude, both from my federation and from those football supporters concerned. And I want to pay public tribute today, particularly to the legal officer Anna Fairclough and her colleagues. There is a debt of gratitude which we’re going to find very difficult to repay. And I’m pleased to tell you that Football Supporters Federation decided at it’s national council last Sunday to affiliate to Liberty. Many national council members and other activists in the FSF have also joined as individual members and I know that many more intend to do so over the coming weeks.
So what is Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act? As I said this is a relatively new law. It gives powers to a police officer of any rank to require any person that they believe is or is likely to participate in the proximate future in alcohol related – and those specific words are in Section 27 – alcohol related disorder, to leave a locality by a route that the officer can specify for a period not exceeding 48 hours. Now I don’t suppose there’s any citizen sitting in this room today that won’t accept that we have a problem as a society with disorder and alcohol related crime, and violent crime as we’ve heard – the knife crime particularly affecting black and ethnic minority communities in London is a plague. So it would appear on the face of it that this is a new tool in the tool box of modern policing, as police management like to call it, and it isn’t too burdensome or disproportionate – if only.
If only that were the case. I can site briefly two cases, one of which papers have been served on the Greater Manchester Police by Liberty on behalf of the individuals concerned, to seek a judicial review of the actions of the officers. 15 November at the end of last year around 80 supporters of Stoke City were peaceably gathered in a pub in Earlham which is a pub on the outskirts of Greater Manchester prior to their club’s game against Manchester United. Now those of you who know your football will know that Stoke City have spent a long time in the lower divisions of English football having been relegated in 1977. So this was the first occasion in 30 years that Stoke City had played at Old Trafford against Manchester United and therefore it was a very special day for those supporters. The day turned out, unfortunately, to be special for all of the wrong reasons. For a reason still unclear to us the police surrounded the pub, refused to allow any of these Stoke City supporters in the pub to leave. All of them were issued with notices under Section 27 which I remind you requires an individual assessment of each individual – every single Stoke City fan in the pub was issued with one. One supporter refused to sign a copy of the notice because he believed that the statements being made about him being involved in disorder were factually incorrect. He was told if he refused to sign he would be arrested.
The police organised buses outside the pub and eventually all these 80 or so Stoke City fans were processed on to the buses. Now clearly, because people had been in the pub some of them required the use of the toilet. The police refused to allow those fans who had already been put onto the buses to go back into the pub to use the toilet and they were told to urinate in empty containers. Now I ask you, how dignified is that – for people who are quite happily minding their own business, bothering nobody – and we’ve got a written statement from the publican that all the fans were peaceable, none of then were drunk, they weren’t even singing, and every one of them is welcome to go back to his pub any time that they like.
So that’s what we’re dealing with here: 80 people didn’t get to see the match, match tickets worth over £30 worth nothing any more, all of them bused back from Manchester to Stoke – including one Stoke City fan who lives in Manchester! So having been taken all the way back to Stoke, he then had to take himself to the railway station at his own expense to buy a railway ticket to take him back to Manchester where he lived. He made that clear to the officers at the time and they said you’re confusing us with people who care, essentially.
An even more bizarre case surrounds 9 Plymouth Argyle fans who travelled by minibus on the motorway from Devon to South Yorkshire for their game against Doncaster Rovers in December of last year. So far so normal – it’s something that thousands of fans, tens of thousands of football fans, do every weekend. Amongst this group were the son of a recently retired senior police officer and a company director. After arriving in Doncaster at midday they headed for a pub, where they knew that a lot of Plymouth Argyle fans would be gathering before the match, to look for some lunch. On going in to the pub they realised that the pub didn’t serve food; they were all hungry so they all attempted to leave the pub and this is where it all went wrong. The pub had been surrounded by police officers and they were refused permission to leave – as if you need permission from a police officer to do what you like as long as you’re going about your business peacefully. In fact one of them, when he pointed out to the police officer that they wanted to leave because they didn’t want a drink, they wanted to go and get something to eat, was told “Don’t bother, you’re not leaving the pub, go back into the pub and have a drink”. Now lets remind ourselves that Section 27 is designed to deal with alcohol related disorder – is it really a good idea to tell someone to have a drink on an empty stomach when what they want to do is to go and eat.
Then it goes very serious. They were marched back to their minivan, they were escorted to the motorway where they were picked up by police cars from South Yorkshire, taken down the motorway surrounded by police cars, a helicopter above them – bearing in mind this is nine football fans including an eleven year old boy – at the Derbyshire border they were met by officers of the Derbyshire constabulary, likewise at the Derbyshire and Leicestershire boundary. At one stage they said we’re going to have to stop. They stopped on the motorway where they slowed down very slowly they said we’re going to need to stop. They were refused permission, until reluctantly the officers agreed they could stop when it was pointed out to them that the internal combustion engine doesn’t function very well when there’s no petrol in the tank. So when they pulled in to the service station, they asked to be allowed to leave to use the toilet facilities – they were told no. Reluctantly they finally agreed to take each of the people on the minibus, under escort, with baying police dogs which were terrifying both the the occupants of the van and the bystanders.
Now I ask you, do you really think a) that that’s a proportional and sensible use of police powers, and b) couldn’t those police officers in cars and a helicopter be better employed doing something more useful in detecting and deterring crime? Well I know what my answer to that is. So, that’s the case there.
Let me be clear, the FSF doesn’t support, never has and never will condone violent crime. An often ignored fact is the single biggest group that are affected by football related disorder and violence are football supporters themselves. We’ve got no interest in promoting violence. In this particular case the police have massively overstepped the mark. The egregious abuse of a dangerous power that parliament in it’s lack of wisdom has seen fit to grant, should concern all of us who care about civil liberties and human rights. Simon Bolivar, one of the historic liberators of South America celebrated to this day in the title of that continents international football tournament – the equivalent of the UEFA Champions League – the Copa Libertadores de América or the American Liberators Cup, said nearly two hundred years ago, in his famous letter from Jamaica in 1815, “A state too extensive in itself is transformed into a tyranny. It disregards the principles which it should preserve and finally degenerates into despotism.” How right he was. A lesson that sometimes appears to have been forgotten in the supposed cradle of democracy. Thank you.