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In a decision that will be greeted with joy by football clubs all over the country, the Court of Appeal has ruled that police forces are not entitled to charge them for keeping the peace in public areas around stadiums on match days.The case concerned a club that had been charged up to £25,472 per match day by its local police force in respect of what were described as special police services. Those encompassed policing the public streets surrounding the stadium. The club eventually ceased paying the bills, on the basis that there was no requirement to pay them in law, and launched proceedings against the force to recover substantial sums that it claimed it had overpaid in the past.
The club’s claim was dismissed by a judge on the basis that its employees and stewards bore primary responsibility for traffic control, safety and public order in the area around the stadium before and after matches. It was they, not the police, who closed the roads with bollards and shepherded fans to and from the turnstiles in an orderly fashion. The club also used the temporarily pedestrianised roads for setting up kiosks and other commercial activities.
In upholding the club’s appeal against that ruling, however, the Court found that the crowd control and other tasks performed by its personnel were insufficient to displace the principle that it is the police who bear responsibility for maintaining order in public places. The club’s employees had no coercive powers and it was for the police, not the club, to apprehend aggressive or otherwise badly behaved fans in public areas around the stadium.
The Court noted that its ruling achieved certainty and predictability in a controversial area of the law and was in line with precedent. If the established legal position was to be changed, that was a matter for Parliament, not the courts.