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Dispersal orders: what you need to know

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Over the last week many fans have been in touch with us at FSF HQ concerned about police use of dispersal zones.

This follows news that Merseyside Police have invoked powers enabling them to issue Dispersal Notices over a period of 12 hours for Grimsby Town’s visit to Prenton Park as they prepare take on Tranmere Rovers this weekend.

What are dispersal zones?

Dispersal zones are authorised under section 34 of the Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014).

They give police the power to ask a citizen to leave the designated area if officers believe they have, or are likely to, contribute to the “harassment, alarm or distress” of members of the public within the zone or that they (the police) believe it necessary for reducing crime or disorder.

Saturday’s designated area or dispersal zone is huge – have a look here – taking up a significant swathe of the town for 12 hours on match-day, and fans have been expressing their concerns.

In practice

FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks shadowed Merseyside Police for their recent clash versus MUFC in the Europa League and the police had similar powers in place then.

She witnessed officers issue dispersal notices to a small group of supporters that evening.

“I understand supporters concerns,” Amanda said. “These powers are relatively new and are yet to be tested in court meaning there is possible scope for misinterpretation.”

However, during the Liverpool versus Manchester United fixture, Amanda felt the dispersal powers were used appropriately.

She said: “Based on the number of arrests and complaints that come our way, Merseyside Police are one of the better forces when it comes to policing football matches.

“This was the only time fans were dispersed all evening and I would hope the same discretion and common sense approached is used on Saturday.”

Advice on dispersals

Depending on the scenario some supporters may feel they are being dispersed unfairly, however Amanda suggests three points – film the dispersal clearly, don’t challenge the officer issuing it, and definitely don’t re-enter the dispersal area.

“There is no point in trying to argue or challenge any dispersal notice,” Amanda said. “It will not change an officer’s mind.

“Yes, you may be angry and frustrated but just like a player challenging a referee who has given him a red card, it won’t help and may make matters worse for you.

“My best advice would be for any supporter who is dispersed is to either film or record the police dispersing them.

“It is lawful to film unless the police deem it interfering with their duties so be sensible in how you film or record. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so ask somebody else to.”

What next?

Amanda advises all supporters that breaching a dispersal notice is an arrestable offence – if this happens Amanda always recommends utilising the free and independent legal advice that’s available at the police station.

“Having a solicitor present may make the difference between you being charged or not and will certainly assist you during an interview,” she said.

“In the unlikely event you are dispersed or arrested for breaching a dispersal notice, contact me on Monday.

“On your behalf, I can take expert advice from a solicitor as to whether or not there may be grounds to challenge the actions of the police or refer to you a criminal defence solicitor if you were charged with breaching the notice.

“This is where a recording comes in helpful. The advice will initially be free of charge.”

Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF’s ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via:

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