Charging for special police services at football matches

The police could not charge a football club for services provided on public land next to a football stadium.

Ipswich Town Football Club Co Ltd (Appellant/Claimant) v Chief Constable of Suffolk (Respondent/Defendant) & English Football League (Intervener) - 10 October 2017

Court of Appeal (Gloster LJ, Gross LJ, Briggs LJ) 

Executive Summary

The police could not charge a football club for services provided on public land next to a football stadium. The fact that the football club had a traffic control order (TCO) over the land was irrelevant. The Court of Appeal so held in a decision reversing Green J at first instance (see Weightmans’ legal update from July 2016).

Background

The case concerned the right of the police to charge for the provision of policing services on Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. The roads adjoin Ipswich Town’s stadium at Portman Road. There are 25 turnstiles on Portman Road and 33 on Sir Alf Ramsey Way. The roads are subject to a TCO on match days which allows the club’s stewards to close the roads by placing bollards, signs and barriers across the closed area. They then control the access of vehicles.

At the request of the club, the police maintain a presence on some match days and assist the stewards in their functions. The police attend in a preventative capacity to demonstrate a presence and set a peaceful and orderly tone for the behaviour of fans and spectators.

It was not disputed that the police were able to charge for services carried out within the ground. These amounted to special police services (SPS) under s.25 of the Police Act 1996. The issue before the court was whether the police assistance on the adjoining roads qualified as SPS which entitled the police to charge and receive payment from the club. Green J at first instance ruled that, although the police are not entitled to charge for delivering their core operational duties to protect life and property, the services in the closed area were a logical extension of the club’s responsibility to ensure safety within the stadium. The club had primary responsibility for traffic, safety and order within the TCO. The police were therefore entitled to charge for SPS.

Decision

The Court of Appeal ruled that insufficient weight had been given to the decision in Leeds United Football Club Ltd v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [2013] EWCA Civ 115. It was held in that case that the police were not entitled to charge for policing services provided on the public highway and in car parks immediately surrounding the stadium. The facts of the present case could not be distinguished from the Leeds case. The most important issue was the distinction between public and private land and the fact that the police activities in question took place on public land. There was a strong presumption that the police had a duty to protect life and property on public land.

The police also attended as part of a pre-planned operation to prevent or control disorder. This was consistent with the discharge of public duties rather than SPS.

Football matches were also essentially public events and this once again pointed to the exercise of public functions on public land rather SPS. This principle was approved in the Leeds United case and the earlier case of Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd [1988] Q.B. 77.

Green J at first instance had wrongly applied the principle of control. Firstly, it was not adopted as a determining factor in the Leeds United case or any other relevant authority. Secondly, the club was not in control as a matter of fact: the club stewards did not enjoy the coercive powers of the police and could not be said to have primary responsibility for public order.

Comment

The police cannot charge for performing their public duty to maintain law and order. They can charge only for the provision of essentially private services that go beyond this duty. Therefore they may charge for policing within football stadiums which are private premises but not for services provided outside a stadium on public land.

Green J’s decision at first instance saw an area immediately outside the stadium which was controlled by the club through a TCO as an extension of the stadium; private rather than public in nature. The Court of Appeal maintained the previous delineation between private and public land. In public places the police are exercising their public duties, not delivering SPS.

For further information or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact John Riddell, Partner on 0116 242 8925 or email john.riddell@weightmans.com.

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