A Barnsley fan has been awarded £3,750 compensation by South Yorkshire Police after he was bitten by a police dog and served with a Section 27 order on his way to Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane. The incident occurred on Saturday 3rd April 2010 and came to the attention of the Football Supporters’ Federation after 22-year-old Aaron Webber* contacted the FSF saying he had done nothing at all to deserve such extreme treatment.
The use of Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 on football supporters is an issue that the FSF has campaigned against ever since Stoke City fan Lyndon Edwards contacted us in late 2008. Lyndon and a group of approximately 80 Stoke City fans were wrongly served with Section 27 orders, ordered to leave Greater Manchester, and held on coaches in extremely unpleasant conditions. Greater Manchester Police eventually paid out around £200,000 in compensation to those involved.
Speaking to the FSF Aaron said: “I drove across to Sheffield with my dad and his two friends who are both in their 40s or 50s and we parked at the top side of Bramall Lane and called into the Howard Pub. The pub was filling up when we got there and soon had around 150 Barnsley fans. There were one or two carrying on and shouting and we decided to set off to the ground early at about 2pm but we were stopped outside by the police from leaving early. They kept us back to walk everyone up together.
“There was a group at the front of 30 or 40, then a gap and a group including my dad, his friends, and others, then another group of another 30 or 40. On the right there was a group of Sheffield United fans walking parallel to us and, as we came to a T-junction, more police presence and more United fans. There was taunting going on between the front of our group and their fans but I’d deliberately kept out the way.
“At this point my dad was about 10-15 yards behind me but I hadn’t realised, I felt a push in my back and not realising who it was, I said, ‘What the F are you doing?’ Before I'd even finished speaking I was pulled out of the small group and across the road by one policeman and a female officer. There was also a dog handler behind me and the dog - an Alsatian - jumped up and bit me on the back.
“The handler pulled it off and kept on going but it had pulled my legs away. The two police officers just carried on pulling me along the road and across to some railings on the other side of the road outside a disabled ramp. Handcuffs were against my back, as was a knee, and my face was against the railings.”
Aaron says he was distressed by this point and tried to find out why he had been hauled out in such a violent manner. His dad also came across to remonstrate with the police but the response was blunt and left little room for further discussion.
“I tried to explain to the officers that I had been bitten and was in pain. The female officer told me to shut up and that there was nothing there. She told me to stop moaning and that she was bored now. My dad was asking why they’d arrested me and one of the officers said I had been arrested for a public order offence. My dad asked what they were going to do about the bite and was just told to go away. I told him, ‘Just go dad – there’s no point in you getting arrested too.’ I’m training to be a teacher and I was at Uni at the time so I was worried about getting a criminal record.
“Blood was running down my back by now, I managed to pull my top up even though I was still handcuffed and show the female officer my injuries but she said it’s nothing, just a scratch. I was put in a van and the commanding officer then came across and asked me to explain what had happened. He then gave me a Section 27.”
Section 27 legislation allows police to move someone from a specified locality for a period of up to 48 hours if the police say they pose a risk of alcohol-related disorder. No offence needs to have been committed for the act to be enforced and the legislation was not introduced with the policing of football fans in mind. By requesting supporters to leave cities, or even entire conurbations, the police stretch the definition of a specified locality to its limits and, some would argue, beyond.
“I asked, ‘Can I go and see my dad and just sit in the car till then end of the match?’ I wasn’t bothered about the game by now. He said no way, I'd have to go to the station and wasn’t allowed back in Sheffield for 24 hours. This officer then put me in a car and drove me to the train station. On the way, he referenced a film, I think it was Platoon, or something like that - take it as a war wound and forget it ever happened. The Section 27 was filled out and he made me sign it.
“By now blood was running down my boxers and I had to get the train home. It was 30 minutes on the train to West Yorkshire and my mum met me there - she took one look at me and realised I was in shock. I was taken straight to A&E where the doctor, who was a football fan, gauzed and cleaned my back.
“Post-match my dad spoke to Alan Bloore (FSF National Council member and fellow Barnsley fan) who put us in touch with Amanda and the FSF, he pointed us in the right direction. The FSF specialist solicitor was very good and quick - very helpful. Everything from then was done through the solicitor who wrote to the police making my case for why I'd been treated unfairly.”
Deighton Guedalla Solicitors, who acted on behalf of Aaron, made claims for false imprisonment (covering Aaron’s detention by the police), assault (covering the force used by the officers and the dog bite – if the dog was deliberately set on him), negligence (covering the dog bite if the dog was not deliberately set on him), and breach of human rights (covering the issuing of the Section 27 notice). The settlement covered all of those claims.
During this correspondence the police claimed Aaron was with a “gang of youths” who “were obviously intent on violence” even though Aaron says he had gone to the game with his dad and his dad’s mates. Aaron says all of them were in their 40s and 50s. After some back and forth between Aaron’s solicitor and the police’s legal team compensation was offered at a level Aaron was happy with. But no amount of money can make up for the fact that the game has now lost much of its magic for Aaron.
“It’s definitely changed how I look at football and I've not been to many away games since. From the age of six I've been a season ticket holder and regular away match-goer, I went to the majority, but not now, I see it different. I’m always looking over my shoulder and I only went to two away games last season. It’s hard to explain to people that I hadn’t done anything wrong. If I was at the front I could maybe have even understood - but I wasn’t and I've never caused trouble before.”
Darren White, from Deighton Guedalla, the solicitors who acted for Aaron, said: “Unfortunately, this is a classic example of heavy handed policing at football matches and an attempt, when things go wrong from the police’s point of view, to use Section 27 completely inappropriately”. Coincidentally Darren is a Sheffield United supporter. “As a Blades fan, I was disappointed to hear of the outcome of Aaron’s trip to Bramall Lane and was particularly pleased to be able to help him to get some recompense for his appalling ordeal.”
A South Yorkshire Police spokesperson said: “Derby matches can be highly charged but are usually good-natured affairs, with trouble caused only by a minority of people. South Yorkshire Police will continue to take whatever action is needed - including the use of Section 27 notices - to police such games in a bid to keep the majority of those attending safe. On occasions where fans believe mistakes have been made, the situation will be reviewed and, if appropriate, action taken.”
Amanda Jacks, who has responsibility for policing and stewarding issues at the FSF, said: “While it should be remembered that many go to matches without suffering such a horrible ordeal, we do receive reports from supporters around the country on a weekly basis who are concerned about the policing or stewarding they are subjected to. While we continue to work with various police forces and authorities to ensure supporters are treated both reasonably and lawfully, we can only do this if supporters continue to feed back their positive and negative experiences.”
If you are a football supporter who feels they have been unfairly treated by the police or stewards contact the FSF’s Amanda Jacks for further help and advice.
* The supporter’s name has been changed for this piece to protect his identity. ‘Aaron Webber’ is an assumed name and any resemblance to any other person is entirely coincidental.
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