Publication - Research and analysis

An Evaluation of Football Banning Orders in Scotland

Published: 29 Jul 2011
Part of:

This report presents the findings of an evaluation into the use of football banning order (FBO) legislation in Scotland.

72 page PDF

1.1 MB

72 page PDF

1.1 MB

An Evaluation of Football Banning Orders in Scotland

72 page PDF

1.1 MB


Identifying a football-related offence
4.1 A successful FBO regime starts with, and is wholly dependent on, the successful identification of football related offences in the first place. Such identification may be by a police officer outside football stadia, or by a steward or an officer within stadia. When an incident is recognised as football-related, the regime then relies on the decision making of police officers to determine whether the offence is of a seriousness that merits a football banning order application. In the first instance this may be the arresting officer or the match commander, the latter being responsible for reviewing all arrests made in and around the stadia.

In stadia
4.2 Within stadia the responsibility to control behaviour falls between the club and police. As per the Lord Advocate's 1995 Guidelines, [9] the initial responsibility for policing the behaviour of both players and spectators within the ground lies with the clubs and its officials, though it is then for the police to use their discretion when determining whether an incident is serious enough to merit arrest and referral of a case to a Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) office. As mentioned, there was a general consensus that these arrangements work well and that the different sets of officials work with general accord in terms of what behaviour merits formal criminal justice intervention and what behaviour merits lesser sanctions. The general opinion of Match Commanders was that they were a highly competent and professional group. Qualification as a match commander has, in recent years, required more formalised training at the Scottish Police College, including training directly on the application of FBOs.

4.3 However, it should be noted that this evaluation focussed on five of the biggest clubs in Scotland, and there was a view among some participants that the quality of process and decision making was less assured elsewhere. In particular the engagement of divisional commanders was seen as being fairly critical in terms of how much resource and attention was paid to football-related violence and disorder. The extent to which, for instance, football intelligence officers ( FIOs) were given any time to do their work, was largely at the behest of divisional commanders rather than pre-determined through any national standards, or ACPOS policies. Whilst it could be argued that dedicating less resource and attention may be a reasonable response to the fact that there is less of a problem, police respondents were not always convinced that less resource equated to less of a problem. Football violence and disorder can easily be seen as of limited concern if incidents of violence or disorder are not appropriately identified as football-related in the first place.

4.4 Within stadia there was general confidence in the quality of decision making, though some respondents felt that - given the dynamic, fast-paced nature of decision making in this environment - information on FBO subjects and FBO conditions were not always readily available. Some FIOs helped here, providing briefing packs and photographs of all relevant FBO subjects for key games, though the capacity to do this for every game was limited. In England and Wales, the Minerva system provides all match commanders and FIOs with a live source of intelligence, photographs and FBO condition information for all FBO subjects. The system is now being rolled out in Scotland, and if it is used and properly, this system should resolve this issue.

4.5 Participants also identified a potential problem during the early period of the FBO regime with the quality of decision making by arresting officers and match commanders, with a tendency initially to sometimes request orders for incidents that were too trivial. It was thought, however, that the quality of decision making had improved, and there were broad levels of confidence in how the FBO regime was administered in response to incidents within stadia. This included a reasonable level of confidence in terms of current coordination and communication between club stewards and the police.

4.6 In most stadia, for most games, police officers no longer actively police inside the stadia, with this role formally being passed over to club stewards. Instead, police officers remain in concourse areas, ready to step in if a steward needs assistance with the removal of a fan, or if a fan merits arrest. Whilst some respondents expressed concern about the variable quality of stewards, respondents were still of the view that fans who needed to be arrested were being arrested. The one area of residual concern for some respondents related to those offences of disorder that stewards might be reluctant to challenge, notably sectarian offences. Whilst, large scale incidents could still be investigated through use of CCTV systems, more minor ones might escape attention if stewards chose to ignore the behaviour.

"if the same steward patrols the same part of the ground week after week, which they do, and if they are seen to arrest someone.. what the reaction to them will be I don't know. There is a level of tolerance"

(Police respondent 7)

4.7 The Green Guide, which prescribes the standards of security that all SFA registered clubs need to follow, has been gradually tightened in line with the increasing responsibility being handed to clubs. Already, all club security managers require a high level of professional training. The Guide also prescribes a lower level of training for stewards. However, the high turnover of club stewards has made this difficult to achieve, with only the core of more professionalised stewards receiving the full prescribed level of training. Nevertheless, the quality of stewarding in terms of training provision does appear to have moved on from that previously described by O'Neil (2005), though one club official acknowledged that if greater responsibilities continued to be placed on clubs, then clubs would probably need a larger, more highly-trained, body of retained stewards.

4.8 Sectarian offences presented particular challenges for police officers as well as club officials. Whilst, the formal ACPOS position on dealing with sectarian offences may be characterised as 'zero tolerance' ( ACPOS 2009: 14), it was not always possible for officers to immediately apprehend offenders. If an offence was largely confined to the actions of a single individual fan, then the opportunity for taking appropriate action was greater. A steward however, might still be intimidated to take action against an individual situated within a large group of supporters, whilst match day officers might also view it as unwise to intervene there and then in view of the potential for sparking wider scale disorder. Nevertheless, respondents acknowledged that the opportunity would still arise later, when an individual for instance went to fetch their 'hot pie', for an arrest to be made. Large scale sectarian action, for instance a large section of a crowd singing abusive songs, presented more of a challenge.

"it does boil over at football and you hear sectarian chants from both sides, and it's not right, but it's hard to take action against twenty, thirty thousand people who are singing the same song"

(Police Respondent 7)

4.9 Stewards were instructed by clubs to report any such incidents to match commanders, though commanders would usually not be able to intervene 'there and then' on safety grounds. Evidence could of course be gathered for taking subsequent action, and this was done on some occasions. However, there was a lack of consistency and consensus here amongst respondents about the practicality and appropriateness of targeting individuals within such large crowds for FBOs. If a ringleader presented themselves then respondents certainly agreed that action was appropriate. But in the absence of an obvious ringleader there was little clarity about how FBOs could or should be used. There was universal agreement that sectarian issues went well beyond football, that they stemmed from historic tensions, and that 'something needed to be done' about them. But what that 'something' amounted to, in terms of specific club and police responsibilities within the confines of a specific football event, remained unclear.

4.10 Finally, a key quality that both police and club officials identified as vital to the robustness of security arrangements, and more specifically, to the robustness of FBO processes in and near stadia, was achieving a reasonable degree of consistency in terms of key officials responsible for these provisions. For instance club officials clearly valued having a limited pool of police match commanders running match day operations. In their view this helped ensure: that match commanders understood the specific issues relevant to that club and its fans; that they could communicate effectively with each other and with club officials through the course of a season; and lastly, that there was a consistency of judgement when dealing with issues of violence and disorder.

Away from the stadia
4.11 There is evidence to suggest that the more removed incidents of football related violence and disorder are from the stadia, and from the routes to the stadia, the less likely it is that incidents will be dealt with appropriately.

4.12 As with incidents inside the stadia, incidents in the immediate vicinity or on obvious routes to and from the stadia were viewed as being fairly effectively policed by public order units, forward intelligence teams, spotters, and - for routes involving public transport, by members of British Transport Police ( BTP). BTP in particular appears to be very active in identifying football related offences, and pursuing banning orders, notably targeting sectarian disorder on public transport. Whilst BTP had limited success with these applications at first, there are indications that their attention to detail, in terms of: ensuring that all its officers are fully briefed and are aware of football issues; that they evidence cases properly and emphasise offence impacts; that they support applications where appropriate with video evidence of incidents; and where they liaise with COPFS and the Glasgow Deputes to ensure that cases are properly presented in court - have all begun to pay dividends.

4.13 Participants identified the problems emerging when incidents took place well-away from stadia and direct travel routes, or occurred after dedicated match policing operations had 'stood down'. The difficulty in these circumstances was that football related offences would be dealt with by officers who may, or may not, have any particular understanding of football related violence and disorder or football banning orders. Moreover, in the absence of the Match Commander there would be no immediate form of quality control to assess the arrests made in terms of their suitability for an FBO application. This would not be problematic where football violence and disorder is conveniently concentrated in and around stadia, and closely within the period before and after matches. But several police respondents were candid in their assessment that risk supporters knew 'right well' when police operations wound down, and would often wait to organise violence shortly after the police vans had departed. Similarly, incidents of organised fights between rival sets of risk supporters would often not be arranged for anywhere near the confines of stadia or on the public travel routes to them (which appear to be very well monitored by British Transport Police). Indeed, as respondents made clear, risk supporters would often 'hole up' in pubs or other venues away from stadia and wait for the police operation to wind up before looking for rival supporters.

4.14 In this context, it becomes important that arrests made away from match operations, are identified and processed appropriately. However, FIOs were fairly unanimous in the view that this often didn't occur. Officers either didn't realise the value in alluding to the fact that an incident was football related, or if they reported an incident as football related, they didn't write their arrest report in such a way would support an FBO by clearly evidencing the link to football. Given the large number, and high turnover, of frontline officers, it would not appear reasonable to expect frontline officers to have a working knowledge of FBOs, nor would it probably be realistic in resource terms to expect that such knowledge could be reliably imparted to all frontline officers and maintained. A further potential area of oversight would be that a failure by the arresting officer to check PNC and the Scottish Intelligence Database ( SID) could mean that an arrestee's antecedent history of football related violence and disorder, or their status as a 'risk supporter' was missed.

4.15 One respondent provided a good example of the ways in which frontline officers may fail to clearly communicate the football-related nature of incidents in their arrest reports. This case involved two males shouting sectarian abuse on leaving a railway station. This was all that was communicated in the arrest report. What was not conveyed was that the incident took place on a match day, that the two males were wearing club colours, that they were leaving the railway station to walk directly to the match venue, that they were planning to attend the match, and that fans of both teams were present at the incident.

4.16 More realistic, and sustainable ways to pick-up incidents that may be missed by arresting officers include the following:

  • Case management staff have a general duty to quality control arrest reports, and indeed have a role in spotting football-related cases. However, FIOs were of the view that case management units could not - given the volume of work they faced - be solely relied on to pick up all such cases.
  • FIOs often attempted to scan weekend arrest records in an attempt to spot likely incidents that might be football related. They could then contact the arresting officer if they found incidents that they felt merited an FBO application. FIOs did often attempt to do this, though they also admitted that the limited time they had to dedicate to the football intelligence role restricted the extent to which they could do this in any way systematically.
  • Finally Procurator Fiscal deputes or even Sheriffs could pick up on cases that were clearly football related, but which had not been considered in terms of an FBO. There have indeed been a number of cases where Sheriffs have imposed FBOs of their own volition where none were requested by police. As part of the Glasgow Depute pilot, Procurator Fiscal deputes are also scanning incoming cases both to spot missed opportunities, but also to generally check the quality of reports where FBOs are being requested.

4.17 There was some concern and frustration that this type of violence and disorder was not always being effectively targeted. Even some clubs that had risk support that went nowhere near the ground, still believed that such groups needed tackling because they inflicted reputational damage upon the club. At least one force was reviewing how it conducted match day operations, with a view to extending the focus of match day operations to cover this more distant type of match day trouble, potentially re-positioning match-day stadia security within a broader 'event planning' framework.

But what, and who, is an FBO actually for?
4.18 Whilst police and clubs processes for identifying suitable FBO cases may account for some under-performance in the FBO regime, a more fundamental issue that may underpin inconsistencies in the use of FBO powers was very evident in interviews with stakeholders at every level (police, Fiscals, Sheriffs and club). Namely there was a wide range of views regarding who FBOs should be targeted at, and for what types of behaviour.

4.19 Whilst all respondents agreed that FBOs were suitable for violent offences, and for racist and sectarian disorder, there was considerably less agreement about how serious or aggravated some of these offences needed to be, or the extent to which an FBO might be suitable for a first time offender if an offence was of a certain level of seriousness.

4.20 For instance, some respondents took what might be termed a 'zero tolerance' approach viewing FBOs as suitable for any offence committed in a football ground. Others saw this as disproportionate, and would only consider an FBO as suitable for repeat offenders, in particular those engaged in repeated, organised violence, or for a very serious first offence. Some respondents held the view that any sectarian offence, regardless of seriousness or the record of the accused, merited an FBO. Others were of the view that sectarian offences did not merit an FBO unless there were aggravating factors (such as the fact that the individual was a ringleader, inciting others to join in the disorder).

Identifying risk supporters, emerging risks, and organised violence
4.21 Much of the preceding chapter has considered the quality of police and club processes for appropriately identifying cases that merit an FBO after an arrest for violence or disorder has been made. However, part of determining and effectively evidencing whether an FBO is appropriate, is having a knowledge of the context of a particular incident ( e.g. was it an instance of planned violence), and having a knowledge of the key individuals involved ( e.g. are they known risk supporters, or do their associations on this occasion suggest their 'emergence' as a new risk supporter). Moreover, incidents of organised violence are unlikely to be picked up in the first place if appropriate intelligence and surveillance work is not undertaken to identify times and venues. This requires proactive policing strategies.

4.22 Police respondents were, without exception, of the view that undertaking proactive operations to monitor, and gain new information on risk supporters was essential. Central to this work was maintaining an overt and visible presence on match days, using high visibility 'forward intelligence teams' and police 'spotters', both to identify possible signs of trouble, and to 'spot' known risk supporters who might be intent on trouble. The long-term, strategic value of such work was that it allowed officers to keep abreast of new venues for association (and possible disorder), new allegiances and rivalries, and the identity of new recruits.

4.23 In terms of supporting the FBO regime, the value of this intelligence work was that it provided a bedrock of evidence that could be used in support of any FBO case, should known individuals subsequently be charged. An FBO application is more compelling if it can be shown that an individual has a history of behaviour and associations that marks them out as persistently troublesome. Moreover, for particular high risk individuals, intelligence could also be used to support - in the absence of a criminal conviction - a civil summary application for an FBO.

4.24 The use of spotters and visible intelligence teams was also seen as having a strong deterrent value. Fans, and risk supporters alike, could see that the police were keeping an eye out for misbehaviour. But this approach was also commonly characterised as relatively low key and non-confrontational, depending as it did on police officers having some rapport with legitimate fans and risk supporters alike, mingling with them and talking to them.

Pursuing an FBO application
4.25 There were clear benefits to police officers liaising with Procurator Fiscal deputes to ensure that all the relevant evidence in support of an FBO application is provided, and that the context of the case is clearly explained. In practice such liaison appears to have been patchy. However, in most of the more serious or high profile cases, the FBO manager and/or FIOs did liaise with local Procurator Fiscal deputes, and the FBO manager took a general responsibility for monitoring progress for these cases.

4.26 Such instances though were the exception rather than the rule, and failing to follow cases through was clearly seen as detrimental. The primary reasons behind this lack of follow-through appear to have been:

  • The onus for liaising with Procurator Fiscal deputes or attending court primarily falls on FIOs, who again do not appear in most cases to have the time to take on this extended role.
  • Even if resource was available there was an evident cultural reluctance, found both amongst police officers and amongst some Procurator Fiscal deputes, to directly track cases through to prosecution. Some officers viewed it as procedurally proper that once reports and paperwork had been submitted that they should then have no part in court proceedings unless called as witnesses.
  • However, at least one Procurator Fiscal depute felt that this cultural 'reason' for police officers and fiscals not routinely liaising over cases was spurious, a post-hoc rationalisation of a distance that had grown up between the two agencies largely because of other factors (principally changed working practices, computerisation, and heavy workloads). The Procurator Fiscal deputes' view was backed up by internal COPFS guidance on FBOs that in fact encourages liaison with police officers.

Pursuing summary applications
4.27 Finally, it should be noted that outside of Strathclyde officers gave limited consideration to the use of civil summary applications ( e.g. the equivalent of civil orders in England and Wales). A few had been made. They had exclusively been targeted at risk supporters, and all but one of these had succeeded with little difficulty. One force had even temporarily employed a civilian worker to help develop intelligence packages on all their major risk supporters with a view to pursuing summary applications against all of them. However, the resources were not available to develop further intelligence packages that would support summary applications. Nor were most forces on the whole prepared to consider funding such applications.

Enforcement and the FBO Authority
4.28 Once an FBO had been applied for many of the practical mechanics of enforcing bids rested, in the first instance, with the FBO Authority. The Authority was responsible for facilitating the compliance of FBO recipients with the conditions of their ban, and for ensuring that any breaches of those conditions were appropriately acted on. This role typically involved liaison with FIOs and with COPFS. The general consensus was that the FBO Authority operated very effectively in this regard.

4.29 An FBO usually was limited to individuals being banned from attending stadia during matches. Occasionally this could include an exclusion zone around stadia of several hundred meters. Very few breaches had been reported, though the broad phrasing of the FBO legislation had made it difficult to evidence some breaches in court. In particular, the requirement to prove that a banned individual had 'entered premises' for 'the purposes of attending any regulated football match' gave plenty of scope for argument as to what constituted 'premises' and what constituted sufficient proof that an individual was planning to attend a match. Catching a banned individual directly outside a stadium, even if they were in possession of a ticket (which they could argue they were going to give to someone else) was not necessarily sufficient (though exclusion zones could help here). However, given the very low number of breaches to date - backed up with ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that many banned supporters were fully compliant - the implications of these difficulties should not be overstated.

4.30 Police respondents were quick to acknowledge that enforcing these bans, or judging their success is difficult. Picking out a face from a crowd of 40,000 individuals, sophisticated CCTV systems or not, is a tall order. Clubs usually support bans by also withdrawing season tickets, but of course this does not preclude individuals buying tickets from third parties, or attending with someone else's ticket. Detecting breaches was therefore very much viewed as intelligence dependent. Having a tip-off that a banned individual was planning to attend a match, and passing details of those individuals to those policing the match, was considered essential. Given the increasing reliance on club officials to monitor crowds within stadia, there was a strong consensus that more needed to be done to ensure that appropriate information and intelligence could be safely shared between the police and club officials (and indeed vice-versa). This requires the further development of both individual relationships at club-police divisional level, but also strategic relationships between ACPOS and the Scottish Football Safety Officers' Association (the umbrella body to which all Safety Officer's in Scotland have to belong).

4.31 Whilst intelligence officers were mostly well networked with each other, and with the FBO manager, there was no individual formally tasked to undertake the role of collating and coordinating football-related intelligence in Scotland. This stands in contrast to the intelligence-coordinating function of the UK Policing Football Unit in England and Wales, which produces both tactical and strategic intelligence products. A number of police respondents argued that the value of a central intelligence capacity would include: having the ability to collate trends in football-related violence across Scotland; being able to monitor and observe existing and emerging cross-club collaborations between risk supporters; and finally, being able to provide a single point of contact with which to liaise with equivalent authorities both south of the border and more widely in Europe.