Last year lifelong Liverpool fan Kieth Culvin was compensated by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) having been charged with assaulting a police officer. Our caseworker Amanda Jacks tells us about his civil action...
Almost two years ago to the day, Manchester United were at home to Liverpool in the League Cup. Among the travelling support was Kieth, a much respected figure among his fellow supporters, who meets regularly with the police ahead of more high profile fixtures working towards fair and proportionate match day policing and a ‘no surprises’ operation.
GMP have been at the forefront of meaningful supporter engagement and ahead of this fixture, Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts convened a meeting with Spirit of Shankly (SOS). A contentious matter was again on the agenda – away fans being denied the use of concourse facilities, including toilets, in the event Liverpool supporters were held back at the final whistle.
The crux of the matter was that even if officers had been briefed to allow fans to use the toilets for whatever reason on occasion this was not happening and it caused understandable annoyance among fans.
To ensure dialogue continued before, during and after the match, Ch Supt Roberts introduced Sergeant Ben Cowcill to the meeting as a point of contact for SOS. A statement was also issued in which it was clarified supporters would be allowed access to the toilets in the event away fans were held back.
Kieth reports that before and during the game, GMP treated Liverpool fans with dignity, respect and a ‘bit of humour’.
Liverpool lost the match one-nil and were held back at the final whistle. It was then Kieth observed a problem developing at one of the exits to the block he was in. Even though he was a few rows back, he clearly heard supporters asking to be allowed to use the concourse toilets.
Given the exit was blocked by police it was clear that permission to exit to the concourse was not being granted to the annoyance of fans who, it is reasonable to assume, would have been aware of the pre-match meeting Keith attended and would have most probably read the statement.
Thinking that he may be able to assist in calming the situation, Kieth made his way over with the intention of trying to explain to the officers there that the fans should be allowed out and that he had proof of this in the statement and also emails he’d received from Ch Supt Roberts.
Kieth’s perception of the situation was that it was not being handled well by the officers who were ‘very aggressive in their tone towards the fans around them’. He placed himself between the fans and the police and tried to bring some reasoning to proceedings.
Ultimately, his efforts were in vain and the police, according to Kieth, were simply not listening to what he had so say. Kieth then phoned Sgt Cowcill who was elsewhere in the stadium but said that he’d try and get somebody there to assist in sorting the matter out. As the atmosphere got yet more heated, Kieth saw who he thought was a senior officer and suggested he was allowed to go and speak with him but was simply told, aggressively, to go away.
At this point, Kieth made the decision he’d try and get to speak to the senior officer anyway. With the area he was in being very crowed and potentially volatile, he placed himself between two of the officers and, taking care to keep his arms down and not push, Kieth started to make his way down the stairs.
Before moving down the stairs he asked a fan who he recognised if he could use his mobile phone to film him going down because he sensed something might happen due to the aggressive manner towards him and the fans around him by the two officers concerned.
Having made it down a few steps, Kieth was oblivious to the fact that an officer had tried to grab his arm from behind him but did notice ‘something in yellow’ fall to his left onto the netted over seats. The next thing he knew, he was getting dragged down the stairs by two of the officers he’d tried to engage with just minutes previously.
Once on the concourse, Kieth alleges that he was pushed face first against the wall, punched in the back and legs before being handcuffed. He was then taken to a holding area within the stadium where he was held before being transported to Pendleton Police Station where he was charged with assaulting a police officer.
The “something in yellow” that he had seen fall past him earlier was actually a police officer who accused Kieth of assaulting him hence his fall.
Knowing he was innocent of all charges, he approached the FSF for legal support and was referred to Melanie Cooke for representation.
Thankfully due to having the presence of mind to ask fellow fans to film proceedings, the entire incident was captured by mobile phone and this footage was shown at the first court hearing. The prosecutor immediately recognised that there was no case to answer, the Magistrates agreed and some days afterwards Kieth received formal notification that all proceedings against him were formally dropped.
Although vindicated, Kieth was nonetheless aggrieved at his experience and again sought advice from the FSF who referred him to Darren White, a solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, a specialist firm in actions against the police.
Kieth was motivated by the almost certain knowledge that without the mobile footage, he would have been convicted of a serious offence for which one of the penalties could have been a custodial sentence.
He does not share the view that the officer who made the allegation against him made a genuine mistake. Indeed if you break the law in any way, saying you’d made a mistake is not an excuse that would necessarily find you much sympathy in court. Simply, he wanted the officer to be held accountable for his traumatic experience and the only way he could make this happen was by bringing civil action against GMP and financial compensation being paid to him.
Also, being fully aware of possible consequences of his personal details being held on a police data base, Kieth wanted all his data – fingerprints, DNA and his photograph - removed given there was no legitimate reason for the police to retain it. All his details have now been removed from official records.
Initially, Kieth was reluctant to talk about his experience publically but decided to do so because “if it could happen to him, it could happen to anybody”. He, very kindly, also wanted to make it clear that the right support from the right people – us here at the FSF and two excellent solicitors – can make all the difference to an outcome if you’re arrested or have cause to complain about policing and stewarding.
We’re grateful for Kieth’s kind words but what made the real difference here (not wishing to undermine the legal expertise!) was Kieth himself having the presence of mind to ask his fellow fans to use their mobile phones to film events as they unfolded. Such footage is admissible in legal proceedings and clearly proved invaluable here, do remember this if you think filming an incident would assist you or your fellow supporters.
A four-figure sum was agreed with GMP on the advice of Kieth's solicitor.
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 Russell Lee for the image used in this blog. Reproduced here under CC licence.