One of the troubling developments in the past few years, is the number of times police have been captured on film lashing out at innocent demonstrators and football fans, neither of whom can rely on ready sympathy from the public, but who nevertheless have rights in a democracy.
Three weeks ago, the east Lancashire derby between Burnley and Blackburn Rovers took place in normally tense conditions, in which fans from both sides were isolated before and after the fixture at Burnley’s ground, Turf Moor. Trouble after the match was reported in the media with Superintendant Terry Woods, of Lancashire police, issuing a standard statement about a few troublemakers. “Unfortunately we have had to deal with some disorder inside and outside the ground,” he said. “However, the operation that is in place has enabled us to successfully deal with those pockets of disorder rapidly.”
Yesterday, the Police State website publicised a video that shows shocking levels of violence by the police and which certainly puts a different slant on what actually happened after the game. Officers are seen wading into the crowd with batons flailing. It is only a 40-second video, but the fans did not appear to be presenting a violent threat.
In one instance, a father who had attended the match with his 12-year old son said he had stumbled and fallen on one police officer. He said he was beaten across the face, received a severely bruised leg and a suspected broken rib as his son watched in horror. He was then arrested and held in custody by the police for four hours, during which he was seen by a police doctor and eventually presented with a choice – accept a caution or face a charge of violent disorder.
He opted for the first, but he is planning to press a complaint against the police in a civil action. His case has also been taken up by the Football Supporters Federation (FSA), which is increasingly active in defending fans’ rights and focusing attention on policing operations that involve violence and the abuse of new laws to prevent people from exercising their right to attend a football game. While conceding that the Burnley v Blackburn Rovers game required a heavy police presence, Amanda Jacks, of FSA, said the violence in the film was shocking and would turn ordinary law-abiding football supporters against the police. Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said it refused to investigate the matter.
At an FSA event earlier this year, I was struck by how many times people suggested that the police treat fans like animals. That may be true, but I am almost certain that if a video showing animals being beaten like this was put up on YouTube there would be calls for an inquiry, but with football supporters the general reaction is that they deserve it. That is clearly wrong.