Persistence pays for Bhoy seeking justice

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Whenever a fan is on the receiving end of shoddy treatment, be it from their club or the opposition, the police or stewards, the most important quality they can possess in order to guarantee justice is persistence. A fine example of this is a young Celtic fan, we’ll call him John as he understandably wishes to remain anonymous, who got in touch with the Football Supporters' Federation following his arrest at a pre-season friendly away to Lincoln City.

Celtic travelled to Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank stadium on Saturday 24th July 2010 for a pre-season friendly and the Scottish side took a healthy support south – at the time Lincoln were managed by Bhoys legend Chris Sutton. It was a hot summer day and after a few early afternoon beers in the sun the away support was rowdy leading a few fans to, in continental fashion, set off flares and smoke bombs.

John picks up the story: “During the second-half there were smoke bombs and flares going off 10-15 feet away from me. Just after half-time a police officer came up to me and said I fitted the description of someone who had threw a flare. He said they were wearing a green t-shirt and black hat even though I wasn’t wearing a top, my t-shirt was tucked into my jeans, as it was a red-hot summer day! I even showed them my hands as they’d have smoke stains on if I was holding flares or smoke bombs – they ignored it.

“My two pals and everyone around me told the police officers I hadn’t done anything but they would not listen. They arrested me and I was taken to Lincoln Police station, then transferred to Grantham, where I was held for 23 hours. This was a traumatising experience for me and my family who were worried sick about me - I have never been in trouble with the police before.”

John was eventually released on pre-charge unconditional bail the following day at 2pm after almost a full day in custody. He was told a decision would be made within 28 days on whether he’d be charged after the police had gathered evidence and checked local news and CCTV footage. To make matters worse John was left high and dry in Grantham, his fellow fans were obviously long gone, and he had to fork out £98.60 for a new train ticket home.

John was outraged at his treatment and as a result contacted the FSF as well as the Citizens Advice Bureau and his local MP, Gemma Doyle. He also showed great initiative in tracking down 12 fans, via message boards and supporters’ clubs, who saw the incident and promised to testify on his behalf. As a student John was understandably concerned that a conviction could damage his future job prospects while local police had also threatened to pursue a football banning order.

Thankfully, after taking almost a month to check CCTV and BBC local news footage, Lincolnshire Police contacted John to say that all charges were dropped. While many fans would breathe a sigh of relief at this point and put it down to experience John admirably decided to fight for a refund on his train fare as well as the deletion of all fingerprint and DNA records.

“Melanie Cooke [FSF recommended solicitor] advised me to claim for my travel expenses as I’d missed my coach back after I was arrested. I contacted them outlining why it wasn’t right, but they didn’t reply, so five weeks later I wrote another letter and eventually got a cheque through the post. The investigating officer said, ‘You must be satisfied with that, then?’ Well, no, they still had my DNA and fingerprints on record.

“So I wrote to Lincolnshire Police and the Home Office who got back to say it was the local authority’s decision on whether to delete my records. The police said they’d investigate, that was in November, but they hadn’t got back by January so I emailed again. They then agreed to delete my DNA and fingerprint records.”

After John was initially charged the police informed Celtic who banned John “until legal proceedings were concluded”. This meant he missed a pre-season friendly with Blackburn Rovers and a Champions League qualifier against Portugal’s FC Braga. As Celtic sell season tickets which cover these games it also left him out of pocket. Never one to give up though John arranged a meeting with Celtic’s head of security – John’s ban was overturned and, once charges were dropped, he received a refund from the club.

Not many would have been as persistent as John in seeing that justice was done – so what message would he give to fans? “Just don’t give up. The police try and prolong everything to encourage people to give up and accept whatever comes their way – they hope people are just relieved to have their charges dropped and forget about it.” Wise words.

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