October 17, 2004

I wish to register another complaint

17 October 2004

The Superintendent
Edgware Police Station

Copies to: Harrow Observer, Wealdstone FC Supporters Club

Dear Sir/Madam

I want to make a complaint about the policing of the football match between Wealdstone and Borehamwood at Edgware Town on Saturday 16 October, which I believe was negligent and lacking in initiative, and thereby allowed unnecessary alarm and distress to be caused to law-abiding members of the public present. If this complaint is not directed to precisely the right individual or address I would be grateful if it could be forwarded and if I could be informed of the person and place to where it has been sent.

I attended the above-mentioned match, yesterday, at the invitation of a friend who often goes to Wealdstone matches. We were both surprised, on arriving just before kick-off, to find that the ground was segregated and that the Borehamwood fans were kept in a small area in the stand at the opposite corner of the ground to us – we were standing in front of the burger fan not far from the clubhouse. We were soon to find out, however, that this segregation was a wise move, given that a large number of the away fans seemed bent on behaving as badly as they could get away with.

Throughout the first half, for instance, there was loud and obscene chanting from that area of the ground, which at times degenerated into racist abuse. There were several concerted and audible chants of "I'd rather be a Paki than a Stone" and "you're just a town full of Pakis". There seemed, however, to be no arrests or ejections as a result, which surprised me as I am sure racist chanting is an offence. Moreover, as the game turned against their side they became more menacing toward the Wealdstone fans at the other end of the same stand, and moved across the neutral area in order to be as close to those home fans as they could, with all the attendant threatening noises and gestures that went with that. Their intent was clearly menacing, and talking to home fans after the match, it was clear that both fans and stewards felt very threatened by the away fans' actions.

Given this turn of events, one would have expected that segregation would have been strictly enforced at half-time and for the rest of the game. However, somewhat to my surprise not only were away fans allowed into the clubhouse at half-time, but they were allowed into the home areas in the second half. We became aware of this very soon after the half started, because several individuals in the area immediately behind us (i.e. between us and the burger van) started taunting the home fans, calling them "gutless" and so on. One of them threw part of his burger at my friend, hitting him on the head. It is hard to see what reason they could have had for being there in the first place – it is impossible to see why they were allowed to remain there after they made it clear they were there to provoke trouble. However, despite the presence of police officers in the immediate vicinity, the intruders remained.

As the half wore on it transpired that there were six or seven Borehamwood fans in this part of the ground, all of them making remarks about the home fans and about individuals in particular, including myself, my friend and at least one other person. One of the away fans, for instance, mentioned a home fan with a yellow and green shirt, and said loudly that he was looking forward to giving him a kicking.

Once this began, people became seriously alarmed and asked police officers to deal with the intruders. I saw a woman ask a police officer at some length to take some action, which did not happen. I myself sought out the most senior police officer present and asked him to do something. "I'll deal with it", he said. "I've been dealing with it all my life". In fact he did not deal with it. There were more police officers in that part of the ground than there were away fans, but they took no positive action whatsoever. They just stood there. The away fans took this as a sign that personal abuse and threatening comments were perfectly acceptable, and continued to make them.

What made this worse is that once anybody had approached the police and asked them to act, and then been ignored, they were then extremely vulnerable because the intruders had seen what they had done and picked on them personally. I, for instance, was loudly called a "grass" by the away fans, who went on to talk loudly about how much they hated grasses, and so on. They went on to say that they could always come back another time, being "only a bus ride away". There was no purpose in such a conversation other than to alarm and threaten the person at whom it was directed. Being both alarmed and threatened, I went once again and asked a particular police officer, wearing badge number *****, to have these individuals moved. He was completely unco-operative, saying that he’d heard nothing that would allow him to take any action and suggesting that anybody who wanted to could just move away.

I found this suggestion outrageous, for at least two reasons. Firstly, why should people who are the subject of threats move on, as opposed to the people who are making the threats? Secondly, perhaps even more importantly, to move away would be to take ourselves away from the area where the police were standing, and therefore if the away fans pursued us, we would be completely on our own. I was so outraged by this that I said I would take the number of the officer and complain about him, and I am therefore doing precisely that.

The menacing remarks continued to the end of the game, though mercifully nobody was actually assaulted. After the game the clubhouse was closed for a while, presumably from a quite justified fear of the Borehamwood supporters, and the home fans in the area near me, nervous for their safety, arranged lifts for those of their number who were without transport, so that nobody had to risk their safety out on the streets.

Afterwards, I was extremely angry at the way the afternoon had gone. Angry, of course, at the thugs attaching themselves to Borehamwood, but angry, too, at the failure of policing that I had seen. I am quite aware that the powers of the police are, and should be, limited, but there was nothing in law or in the particular situation that necessitated such a pathetic response by the police officers who were present. They were not outnumbered by the people causing distress in the home area. Nor was there anything preventing them, seeing as segregation was supposed to be in force, from telling away supporters who were in the home end that they should not be there and were required to move.

Instead, the tactics adopted were clearly those of keeping an eye on events, presumably to make a move if anybody was physically attacked. There may be times when such tactics are the right ones. However, in circumstances where other options are available, where people are already feeling menaced and threatened, and where members of the public have already asked the police several times to intervene, such tactics actually constitute a refusal to take responsibility. If anybody had been physically attacked, the police would quite rightly have borne their full share of the blame. As it was, many people, talking afterwards, felt both badly shaken, and badly let down by the police. Dealing with it all his life? The officer never even tried to deal with it.

I would like to have, please, specific answers to some specific questions:

  • Why were people not ejected for concerted racist chanting in the first half?
  • Why were away fans allowed into the home area in the second half, given that segregation was in force? Did the threatening atmosphere in the first half not lead the officer in charge to believe that trouble was likely to be both the result and purpose of such an incursion?
  • Why were they allowed to remain after making menacing remarks?
  • Why were they allowed to remain after home fans had asked for them to be removed? Why was there no appreciation of the vulnerable position in which home fans then found themselves? Why was there no appreciation of the vulnerable position in which people who complained then found themselves?
  • Why did police officer ***** refuse to act when specifically asked to do so? Why did he consider it appropriate to direct people who felt threatened to move away, rather than intervene and ask people who should not have been there to return to the correct area of the ground?

I am still shocked and angry twenty-four hours after the event and I think I am entitled to some explanation for your officers’ inaction. I also think that the supporters of Wealdstone, and for that matter the general public, are entitled to know why they were let down on this occasion. With this in mind I have forwarded copies of this letter to Wealdstone supporters and to the media.




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