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Bristol City fans’ victory over police misuse of power

A group of 10 Bristol City fans have gained an out of court settlement from West Midlands Police on the eve of a court hearing into the force’s alleged misuse of dispersal powers at a fixture four years ago. 

The Robins’ fans, who had travelled to the game independently and didn’t know each other, were surrounded by WMP officers outside a pub before their away fixture at Birmingham City back in September 2015.

They claim were threatened with force, including the use of police dogs, publicly accused of being hooligans by an inspector using a megaphone, detained for over 90 minutes and put back on a train home without being allowed to attend the game they had come to watch.

Eight of the 10 supporters were issued with dispersal notices under Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Disorder Act 2014 – all claimed these powers were used unlawfully and breached Article Five of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Backed by the Bristol City Supporters Club & Trust, and on the back of a fundraising campaign from fans up and down the country, they pursued legal action against the force, which agreed to settle out of court last week.

Stu Rogers, from the Bristol City Supporters Club and Trust said: “We always believed that these supporters were unfairly treated. West Midlands Police delayed, hindered and frustrated the process throughout in the hope we would just go away. We didn’t.

“Whilst we will not now have our day in court to seek a ruling, we believe this is a moral victory and sends a clear message to police forces up and down the country: do not misuse these dispersal powers! Fans simply will not stand for it.”

The Birmingham incident was not the first time supporters have challenged these types of police powers. Legal precedent was set in 2017 when two Wrexham fans successfully challenged police orders preventing them attending their away fixture at Grimsby Town and forcing them to return to Wrexham. The pair were awarded compensation.

Amanda Jacks, caseworker for the FSA, said “This is the third successful legal challenge brought against police for their unlawful use of Section 35 dispersal powers. It is telling that to the best of our knowledge these powers have not been used against large groups of supporters since WMP not only dispersed supporters but detained them for well over an hour back in 2015, and then effectively made them leave the city by train.

“This is a significant victory for the Bristol City Supporters Trust who have shown tenacity and determination in holding WMP to account; such was the strength of feeling among the wider fan base about the treatment of their fellow supporters, they raised several thousand pounds to cover legal costs.

“It should also be acknowledged that WMP have totally shifted their approach to football policing in recent years and were the first police force in the country to have a Football Policing Independent Advisory Group comprised of supporter representatives from clubs across their region.”

In light of this case, over 300 of WMP Public Order officers have been trained around the findings of this case to ensure best practice in the future.

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