From the case files: the importance of legal advice

Police line eng sco Photo Action Images

If you’re in bother at the match and thinking of taking a police caution to avoid the hassle of the Courts – stop and take advantage of the free legal advice on offer. FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks has a cautionary tale explaining why…

A not uncommon response to some of my tweets around informing supporters of their rights if arrested is "if you behave, you won’t need to know as you won’t get arrested".

The vast majority of supporters follow their clubs all their lives without having any contact beyond the positive with police or stewards but as these stories demonstrate, even the best of us can fall foul of the law.

I’ve recently been advising a grandmother of seven, and one-time foster carer, who has followed her club home and away for nearly fifty years. For safeguarding reasons has to undergo regular Disclosure Barring Checks (DBS) at work which highlight any criminal record, including police cautions. To maintain her privacy, I’m going to call her Sue.

Towards the end of last season Sue started taking diet pills. The pills came with no advice to avoid taking them when drinking.

It was one of the last away games of the season in the Premier League and as she usually did, Sue travelled to the match by coach. During two stops en-route and over a three-hour journey, she had in total three alcoholic drinks. Hardly excessive and pretty much the norm for Sue.  

On arrival at the turnstiles however, a steward pulled her to one side and said that as she looked a little drunk, it would be a good idea for Sue to go back to her coach, drink a bottle of water and come back in half an hour.

Despite not feeling drunk, Sue took the advice and then as directed made her way back to the turnstiles.

What happened next is in her own words:

“As soon as I put my ticket in I was grabbed by two police officers and my hands placed in handcuffs behind my back and informed I was being arrested for being drunk.

At this point I was really confused as I knew I wasn’t drunk. I didnt resist arrest, argue or be obstructive in any way. I was then marched around the stadium to the custody suite where I was kept in a cell for the entirety of the match.

After the match I was brought back to the front desk where the officer said we needed to hurry to enable me to get back on the coach. I was then taken to a room where they took DNA, fingerprints and photos before being taken back to the desk and hurriedly asked to sign some forms before rushing me out as they were waiting to release the supporters coaches. I wasn’t able to read the forms, partly as I didn’t have time to do so and partly because I didn’t have my reading glasses with me.”

To her horror the next day, Sue discovered that she’d signed forms accepting a simple caution therefore admitting guilt to the charge of being drunk when entering a football stadium - an offence exclusive to football.

She made urgent contact with the police force saying that she was unware of what she had signed and that it hadn’t been explained properly to her. She wasn't offered a solicitor at the time and is challenging the caution.

The police force treated her call as a complaint, the conclusion to which was that the officer who dealt with Sue “only vaguely remembered her” but did recall going through the paperwork with her, explaining the consquences of accepting a caution but accepted he’d done so in a hurried way so Sue could get on her coach. This officer was the recipiant of “words of advice” from a senior officer.

It didn’t end there. As a result of a regular DBS check, her employers became aware of Sue’s caution and suspended her, something she found devasting.

Thankfully she was reinstated but faces another check later this year.

And if that wasn’t enough for this respectable grandmother of seven, who prior to this had a blemish free record, to worry about, details of her caution were passed back to her club who have banned her from home and away games for three years.  She is appealing that decision, something I’m assisting her with.

This story may well have had a different outcome since Sue tells me that had she properly understood she was being offered a caution, she would have refused it and opted to have her case heard in court.

Had she come to us for help and been referred to the indomitable Melanie Cooke of Football Law Associates, it is very likely that this salutory tale would have had a happier outcome.

I think there are two morals to this story – firstly, everybody should know their rights and thinking you’ll never need them is naïve.

Always, always, take up the offer of legal advice at the police station even if that means missing your coach home. It’s free of charge and completely independent of the police.

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: 

Thanks to Action Images for the picture used in this blog.