FBOs: tackling media myths around passport surrender

UK Border T4 Heathrow Photo David McKelvey

Football Banning Orders (FBO) were introduced to prevent violence and disorder at domestic regulated football matches and games played overseas.  Their original targets were those regularly involved in disorder.

Today in practice the list of football-related offences that can end up in the imposition of an FBO appears to be a long one, and includes offences other than Violent Disorder or Affray. For an offence to be deemed football-related it has to occur within 24 hours of the start or finish of a match, and further indicators of its relation to football have included being in possession of a match ticket, or a fanzine, or even a football tattoo when the offence took place.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines state “Simple cautions or penalty notices for disorder will hardly ever be appropriate for football-related offences...” and this thinking is clearly reflected in the content of our casework.

The vast majority of people who come to us for referral to a specialist solicitor are first time offenders charged with non-violent offences, and yet attached to their charge sheet is the more or less inevitable FBO Application. 

If a supporter is convicted of a football-related offence, a court is required to consider granting the FBO application “if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that it would help to prevent violence or disorder”. 

In some cases the test is properly applied, but in our experience it just as often isn’t, meaning that a first time offender can end up being banned from football matches for a minimum of three years for a minor offence such as being “drunk while entering a football stadium”.  

When drafting the conditions of the FBO no consideration is given as to whether or not the subject of the banning order has ever followed their club or country overseas, yet it is a blanket condition that passports must be surrendered, and by today police around the country will be in possession of over a thousand passports to be held for the duration of Euro 2016. (Note: 1929 individuals are currently serving FBOs.  Not all will have passports and some may have been granted exemptions.)

So taking this into consideration, let’s look at some of the quotes that have appeared unchallenged in both national and local media in recent days:  

    • "Police ban hooligans from travelling to France": The police don’t ban anyone, the courts do; technically the police are enforcing bans given by the courts. But this headline is also misleading, in that while technically those with a banning order can’t travel to France, there is no data or evidence that shows that those on bans had ever travelled with their national team or had any intention of travelling to Euro 2016.
  • "Work has already begun preventing known trouble makers from planning trips to the competition": 'Trouble-makers' is a loaded term, creating an impression of violent offenders. Among that 2,000 number there will of course be some who have been convicted of offences involving violence, but the reality is that according to the latest figures, a rough calculation shows that there are twice as many arrests for low-level public disorder (threatening, abusive or distressing language) than for violent disorder. Roughly a quarter of all football arrests last season were for alcohol-related offences, many of which apply only to football fans.
  • "FBOs have worked in reducing the risk of violence at matches with fewer football related arrests over the past six international tournaments": Another misleading statement. Yes, the number of arrests over the last six international tournaments has declined dramatically, but there are far more factors at work here than just the Banning Orders. A multi-agency approach involving supporters’ organisations, a change in the culture of English fans abroad, and not least a campaign to change the confrontational policing styles in many countries have all contributed to the progress made.
  • "More than 1,100 hooligans free to travel to Euro 2016 after banning orders expire": There is no such offence as hooliganism, it’s a tabloid term. The journalist who wrote this article made no effort whatsoever to find out what the banning orders were for, whether or not whose bans had expired had any intention of travelling to France - and nor did they mention that over 90% of those who’ve had a banning order don’t re-offend.
  • "These bans are imposed to ensure the real fans can go and watch football games without fear of violence": Anybody should be able to attend any football match, indeed any sporting or social event, without fear of violence. The reality is that the removal of passports from, in the main, people without convictions for violence will make barely a jot of difference to the safety of those attending the tournament. It’s about time the media stopped their ill-informed rhetoric around Football Banning Orders and presented the real picture of their use and effectiveness.

Thanks to David McKelvey for the image used in this blog. Reproduced here under CC license.