The misuse of dispersal powers against football fans

(Guest blog post by Peter Lloyd). The police have been in trouble before for blocking ‘away’ football fans who are simply going to a match to support their team. In 2010 Greater Manchester Police paid £200,000 to around 80 Stoke City supporters who were incorrectly prevented from going to a game in Manchester and falsely imprisoned by containment, and then escorted out of the city and back to Stoke. Rules were supposedly changed to prevent this happening again but it looks like the problem has not gone away. Three years ago Wrexham fans successfully sued Humberside Police in a similar case.

So furious are a group of Middlesborough fans at their treatment by the police almost five years ago in Derby that they are in the process of a court action against them. According to an open letter from the supporters’ solicitors Watson Woodehouse:

The fans had travelled from Middlesbrough to an away game and were detained on arrival for over six hours. During this time they were not able to use a toilet or have anything to eat or drink. Some of the fans were told by police officers to urinate in the street next to a church. This was extremely humiliating and degrading for those concerned. They were a group of football fans simply trying to support their team.

The solicitors have have issued a claim for false imprisonment and breach of their human rights.

According to the website ‘Teesside Live’ the supporters claim they were penned in for hours, issued with dispersal orders and herded on to a train to get them away from Derby despite having caused no trouble. It is also claimed that when the train arrived in Nottingham, they were again penned in until their minibuses arrived, which were then given a blue light escort to the motorway.

The Manifesto Club is not in a position to independently verify these details. But the story is remarkably similar to others in which the police have taken drastic and improper action using dispersal powers which are not meant for the purpose of stopping football fans from travelling to a match to watch their team.

It appears that dispersal orders are being used far too widely. Guidance from East Riding of Yorkshire Police says: ‘REMEMBER. The Dispersal Order has been introduced because of problems caused by groups of people in the past. It is there to protect you and others.’ But the implication of such language is that you may be forced to disperse even if you and your fellow supporters have done absolutely nothing wrong, and the police can conflate your presence with unrelated cases from the past.

It is clear that Middlesborough fans passionately believe they had indeed done nothing wrong in Derby on 17 March 2015, because they are launching a legal case despite the risk of being out of pocket by doing so. They are trying to crowdfund some of the costs and explain more about their case here. Please support them.

Peter Lloyd is author of the Manifesto Club report Criminalising Football Fans – The Case Against Bubble Matches.