Frightening new police powers have emerged following the shocking treatment of Stoke City fans prior to their team's away fixture with Manchester United on Saturday, November 15, 2008.
An estimated 80 Stoke supporters visited the Railway Inn pub in Irlam, Greater Manchester, on their way to Old Trafford. The pub was a natural stop-off point, being on en route to the stadium via the M6 and a local railway station. By all
accounts that the Football Supporters' Federation have heard it was a relatively quiet atmosphere, with little singing, never mind trouble.
However, at 1.15pm a number of officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) entered the premises and told fans they would not be allowed to leave the pub, would be forcibly taken back to Stoke, and not be allowed to visit Old Trafford.
Each supporter was then issued with a Section 27 from the Violent Crime Reduction Act of 2006. This allows police to move someone from a specified area for a period of up to 48 hours. You do not actually have to have committed any offence for the
act to be enforced. Section 27 gives police the powers to move anybody, from any place, at anytime, if they think there's a possibility an alcohol related offence may be committed.
Stoke City fan Lyndon Edwards, who is making a formal complaint to GMP and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was one of those in the pub: I asked for it to be stated on the Section 27 form given that I was not intoxicated and that
there was no evidence of any disorder on my part. This was refused so I refused to sign the form. I was told to sign it or I would be arrested. We were then loaded onto buses and had to sit there for what seemed like an eternity.
There were no football chants being sung at the Railway Inn and no evidence of disorder whatsoever. If there had of been we would have left the pub and made our way elsewhere.
The Stoke supporters were then driven back in convoy to Stoke city centre, regardless of whether this was actually where they were from.
I have spoken to a number of Stoke fans who were there and I am quite satisfied that they did absolutely nothing wrong, but they end being hauled back to Stoke against their will and missing the game, said Malcolm Clarke, chair of the FSF
and a Stoke City fan: They were treated very badly by the Greater Manchester Police. This new law gives the police a great deal of instant power which can severely affect the basic civil rights of football supporters, if they happen to be in
the wrong pub or on the wrong train at the wrong time.
A police operation to stop Stoke City fans legitimately attending a football match in Manchester, first reported here last year, has resulted in a fan being awarded £2,750 after the police were found to be acting unlawfully. About 20
further complaints are outstanding and are expected to result in similar payments.
This is a great victory for the Football Supporters' Federation, which has been campaigning for police restraint in the use of Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act, which allows police to issue dispersal notices to groups whom they
believe may cause trouble.
Greater Manchester police used the act to round up more than 80 Stoke fans who were on their way to watch their club play Manchester United at Old Trafford on 15 November 2008. The fans had stopped at the Railway Inn, Irlam, where they were
surrounded by officers of Greater Manchester Police and aggressively ordered to board police buses. There had been no complaint from the landlord of the pub, who has since invited them back.
The fans were not allowed to attend the game and their buses were escorted back to Stoke, even though many of the supporters had not set out from Stoke in the first place. They were effectively deprived of their liberty for four hours during
which their buses were not allowed to make lavatory stops.
The rise in complaints against police in England and Wales by 8% to more than 30,000 individual grievances last year cannot be easily dismissed by the suggestion that people have simply become more aware of the complaints procedure. There are
important underlying trends that the police and politicians would be wrong to ignore.
The one I want to focus on here is the way the manner of the police has deteriorated in the last decade. Whenever I encounter officers individually they seem helpful and on top of the job, but when it comes to policing large demonstrations,
football crowds and so on, the police appear to lose what should be an instinctive respect for the law-abiding public.