UK football police chief: Courts must get tougher with banning orders

·4-min read

Courts must get tougher with issuing football banning orders and not accept “sob stories” from defendants, the national lead for policing the sport has said.

As the Prime Minister announced plans to expand the orders to cover racist abuse online, Chief Constable Mark Roberts said fans who are “bare chested, screaming abuse” on match day, don a suit for court and avoid a banning order.

Russia World Cup 2018
Mark Roberts, Football Policing Lead for the UK (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Roberts, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for football policing, told the PA news agency: “On too many occasions people are found guilty but the courts choose not to issue a banning order.

“I think it’s probably because we’ve been successful in reducing issues with football, courts have perhaps lost a bit of focus on how important it is a measure.

“When we seek a banning order and the case is found then they should implement a banning order. If the Prime Minister is looking to make it mandatory, I think that would be really helpful for us.

“We see far too many cases where the person who was bare chested, screaming abuse, drunk at a match, turns up in a suit and gives a sob story and they don’t issue a banning order.”

Football banning orders are handed out when someone is convicted of a “relevant offence” linked to a match, including crimes such as disorderly behaviour, making threats against people or property, and possession of weapons or alcohol.

The list also covers crimes set out under the Football (Offences) Act 1991, which include racist chanting, pitch invasion and throwing missiles.

The duration of a banning order, which is used to bar individuals from attending matches and in some cases can require them to surrender their passports ahead of overseas fixtures, can range from a minimum of three years up to a maximum of 10 years.

Police chiefs want football laws to be updated to include illegal drug use as an aggravating factor.

Mr Roberts said: “We’d like to see the misuse of drugs treated in the same way as the misuse of alcohol. Because there are certain offences where alcohol is an aggravating feature which can be included in a banning order, but the use of cocaine for example isn’t.

“We are seeing consistent evidence that the misuse of drugs also adds to issues at football matches.”

The changes to the banning orders come in the wake of racist abuse hurled at England players online after the Euro 2020 final.

A team from the UK Football Policing Unit is trawling through thousands of social media posts aimed at Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, and so far four arrests have been made.

The fallout from the game has also seen a post mortem around the security breach at Wembley where thousands of ticketless fans were able to storm past stewards.

Many football stadiums are staffed by private security firms as a cheaper option than paying for the police, but Mr Roberts said the rise in disorder and hate crimes at the venues in recent years may mean this has to change.

He said while football clubs spent £300 million on agents at the last transfer window, forces in England and Wales got paid about £7 million for policing football.

“That was a massive deficit to us,” Mr Roberts said. “Had they given us full cost recovery, that would have equated to an extra 700 police officers.

“Football currently is a significant drain on us.

“Some clubs see it as an avoidable cost. They will pay agents fees, transfer fees, but some quite large clubs will try to minimise other costs and policing is included in that.

“We’ve seen disorder increasing over a number of years now, hate crime in stadiums has been increasing as well.

“There’s probably a combination of factors but I think sadly we probably are going to have to see a greater police presence at football matches.

“We’d rather not be there because we’re busy anyway, but I think we’re seeing such an increase that it’s probably going to be one of the solutions.”

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