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Wrexham fans challenge new police powers… and win

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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A father and son have successfully challenged the police over the use of new powers – setting an important legal precedent for fans and winning compensation in the process.

Back on Saturday 26th March 2016, Wrexham fans made the long trip east to watch their side face Grimsby Town. Both sides were flying high and the Mariners won the game 1-0, eventually winning promotion to the EFL via the National League play-offs in May.

However, the fixture could have far wider ramifications than simply being part of the back story to Grimsby Town’s promotion. It’s a story that could affect fans across the UK.

An hour before kick-off Humberside Police stopped a minibus carrying supporters at a service station on the A180. After holding the vehicle for an hour police officers ordered the vehicle to turn around and return to Wrexham.

No arrests were made and the Daily Post reported that: “None of the fans on the bus were subject to banning orders”.

A number of fans present contacted the Football Supporters’ Federation to complain that they had done nothing wrong and were deeply unhappy with Humberside Police’s actions.

We then passed these details on to our legal contacts and the case was taken up by Lochlinn Parker, a solicitor at Irvine Thanvi Natas, and Jude Bunting, a barrister from Doughty Street Chambers.

One pair of fans affected were a father and son – and Lochlinn believed they had an especially strong case which could help set a legal precedent. Both father and son wish to remain anonymous.

Humberside Police had used Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to stop fans attending the game but Lochlinn said: “They were over-reaching in using the power against a group of people rather than making an individual assessment of whether it was right to use it against each person.”

That proved to be the case as Humberside Police have now accepted the power can only be used after an individual assessment – and not in a blanket manner against an entire group.

They also accepted they should not have used a police escort to force fans to leave, did not have the power to film fans when taking their details, and have therefore agreed to delete all records of individuals previously kept on file. They have also agreed to pay a small but satisfactory sum of compensation to the father and son.

“This case is important because it is the first time this new power has been successfully challenged in Court,” Lochlinn said.

In 2009 Stoke City fans brought a case against Greater Manchester Police in respect of the old power (Section 27 of the Violent Crime and Reduction Act 2007) with the help of the FSF and Liberty.

“That led to a re-writing of the guidance for how the power should be used by the police nationwide,” Lochlinn says.

“This Wrexham case should do the same thing. There have been a number of cases where police forces have turned back groups or coaches long before it would be reasonable to say that the occupants were even likely to engage in anti-social behaviour.

“We hope that this will now stop.”

A similar case is also on-going with involving Bristol City fans who say they were falsely imprisoned by West Midlands Police.

Around 50 Robins fans were rounded up and ordered to leave Birmingham in September 2015. Bristol City Supporters Club & Trust launched a civil action against West Midlands Police claiming false imprisonment and a breach of Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks said she hoped the Wrexham case would encourage other supporters to come forward who have been subjected to dispersal orders.

The FSF has heard anecdotal evidence that these powers have been used elsewhere but can only act on that information if the fans involved are also willing to pursue the case.

“I’m very grateful to Lochlinn Parker and Jude Bunting for their work on this case and that gratitude extends to the Wrexham supporters who were willing to put themselves forward as clients,” says Amanda.

“It can be daunting to bring an action against the police, even when there are strong grounds to do so, but we want to hear from fans who have potentially been treated unlawfully.

“We take all complaints seriously and, by standing up for your rights, you might also help protect your fellow fans across the country. Get in touch.”

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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