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This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and Supporters Direct merged to become the FSA in 2019 – so this page may contain hyperlinks that do not work and/or have missing files. Our archived pages are not maintained and will not be updated.

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This article first appeared in the Football Supporters’ Federation’s official magazine The Football Supporter (tfs) 027.

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Stephen Field is a West Ham fan and practising barrister, specialising in criminal law and judicial reviews. As a supporter he has experienced the same issues as us all and is very conscious of the way that football supporters are routinely treated by police. He recently spoke at the FSF’s Fans’ Parliament and has kindly agreed to act as tfs’ resident legal eagle – so if you have any questions relating to football fan issues and the law email [email protected].

As a starter for 10, tfs came up with a couple of our own:

1. What gives the police the powers to “bubble” supporters, i.e. meet them from a station and corral them to a pub that they are eff ectively forced tostay in until being escorted to the ground?

The practice of “bubbling” is employed by the police under “common law” and can be utilised only where there is an “imminent breach of the peace”. It could be argued the practice is overused and frequently not in response to any “imminent” disorder. In legal test cases involving protesters and striking miners the Courts have given the police some flexibility in the interpretation of the term “imminent” by redefining it as “likely to happen”.

The test of legality is ultimately one of reasonableness and proportionality. The police also have certain statutory powers to move people on if they fear “alcohol related disorder in a public place” thanks to Section 27 of the Reduction of Violent Crime Act 2006.

(Ed – A piece of legislation which is pretty well known to tfs – always make sure to get the S27 form that the police must give you and notify the FSF.)

2. Are you allowed to film the police?

Photographing police officers performing (or exceeding) their duties is perfectly lawful. A police officer is a public servant and photographing officers is fine if taken for the purpose of logging the actions of police. A secondary, and more contentious issue, will be the use any photographs are put to.

For example, it would be unlawful to circulate a particular picture of an individual officer merely to cause harassment or offence. Conversely, it would be perfectly lawful to use the same photograph in support of a legitimate complaint against the officer or as defence evidence in a criminal trial.

Stephen is happy to advise, assist and represent football supporters via general queries to [email protected] or if there’s a more serious, and urgent, legal matter he can be contacted via Amanda Jacks at the FSF, call 0330 44 000 44.

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