According to latest figures, Birmingham City supporters top the league of shame when it comes to football related arrests. The club’s fans were arrested more times than any other club in the top five divisions of English football.
In light of that statistic, one can imagine the pressure, both internal and external on the officers of (invariably) West Midlands police force to maintain law and order before, during & after any league or cup game.
It no doubt encourages greater pre match preparation on the part of the Police, consideration of “intelligence”, identifying violent troublemakers or “Nominals” as they’re known and ensuring sufficient resources and manpower are available to escort fans to and from and during the game.
It certainly does not however justify wanton, casual violence against any Blues supporter as one officer of West Midlands is now finding out to his cost.
PC Smith was deployed as a football spotter at a local derby game and was attached to an Operational Support Unit responsible for escorting Birmingham City Supporters from a nearby Train Station to the match. His specific role was to gather evidence of public order offences by spotting and identifying known high risk “nominals”.
My client on this occasion was one of the Birmingham City Football fans who PC Smith was escorting and who was going to the match. He had a ticket and was looking forward to supporting his team. He is a man of good character and was not a “known high risk nominal”.
As the crowd of fans neared the ground, they were stopped by a line of Police Officers adjacent to a large set of double gates which led directly into the ground. PC Smith was one of the officers. My client began using his iPhone to film the situation.
Whilst standing filming, suddenly he felt a sharp pain as his left hand was struck by something hard. The force of the impact caused him to drop his iPhone and caused damage to his watch. The strike came from his left hand side and as a consequence, he turned and saw PC Smith standing directly to his left holding a baton. My client knelt down to pick up his phone and immediately noticed that his left hand was bleeding. He entered the ground and approached a different Police Officer to report the incident. The Officer refused to record his complaint. He then sought medical attention. The following day, he attended hospital for treatment. He was diagnosed with a fracture to his left hand. As a consequence of the injury, he was unable to work.
Fortunately, my client had the footage from his iPhone which showed the incident. Specifically the footage shows a line of Police Officers involved in crowd control, when an Officer’s baton is then seen coming towards the phone in an overhead downward motion. The filming stops abruptly as the phone is dropped.
My client lodged a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission who launched a full investigation. All available evidence was gathered including other footage from hand-held video cameras and body worn video of various Police Officers from both West Midlands and British Transport Police. Owing to the serious nature of this incident the investigation was carried out by the IPCC themselves rather than being delegated to the police force whose officer was the subject of the complaint (West Midlands) as is usually the case. I have blogged before about the often unsatisfactory nature of a complaint investigation process where the police ‘police’ themselves.
The footage which was gathered showed my client intermittently in the crowd. He clearly had a device in his hand (the phone) and whilst the crowd around him was pushing him towards the officers, he was not acting in an aggressive or confrontational manner.
My client can be seen standing at the front of a crowd of supporters. A shout of ‘hold the line, hold the line’ can be heard from the Police. This is then followed by a Police shout of ‘Show of force, show of force’.
PC Smith can be seen with his baton in his right hand, raised above his right shoulder with his left arm outstretched making a pointing gesture towards the supporters.
PC Smith can then be seen to raise his baton in the air and to swing it in a forceful downward movement.
The IPCC carried out an extensive investigation, reviewing all evidence that had been gathered and interviewing all witnesses.
As part of the investigation, PC Smith himself was interviewed under caution.
He reported that he had attended a pre-match briefing where officers were informed that it was believed that 250 known violent Birmingham City Supporters would be amongst the crowd and as such a “zero tolerance” approach would be taken in relation to these individuals.
He recalled that he found himself present in a line of officers that was stood between a crowd of Birmingham City Supporters and the insecure gates to the ground. The officer felt the situation was very volatile and that supporters were trying to rush against the line of officers in an attempt to break the police line.
PC Smith was aware that a command had been given by the OSU Inspector to show a use of force.
The officer stated that he feared for his own safety and felt particularly vulnerable.
He reported that whilst focusing on a known violent nominal at the front of the crowd, he suddenly became aware of a light shining in his eyes. The light, such as it was, was in fact coming from my client’s phone as he filmed the scene, but was alleged by PC Smith, in my opinion entirely over dramatically to be like a ‘flash bang’ or ‘smoke bomb’ (not a known feature of Apple products in my experience).
PC Smith says he then made the decision to make an overhead baton strike to remove the light from his field of vision.
In doing so, he accepted that he had hit my client’s hand and noted afterwards that he saw a mobile phone on the ground with the light still shining.
PC Smith denied that he had used excessive force.
The appropriateness of PC Smith’s baton strike in the general direction of an illuminated light source must be questioned.
Was the use of such force necessary and proportionate in the circumstances?
Unlike the Police Officers confronting them, the football fans, including my client were not wearing any protective head-gear. In lashing out at an unknown target with an over-head strike, in response to the provocation which at best can be described as ‘glare from a phone screen’ PC Smith was literally endangering life and limb of my client and other people around him.
Don’t just take my word for it, these are the comments of the IPCC investigator:-
[The overhead downward baton strike luckily connected with a green strike area, could just as easily have connected with a red area and resulted in a fatal injury]
Fortunately my client suffered only a broken bone as a result of the strike. However, even this took a number of months to heal.
Following review of all the evidence the IPCC have concluded that PC Smith has a case to answer, and he will now face a misconduct hearing. This in my opinion is only right and proper.
In the meantime, on behalf of my client I have intimated a claim against West Midlands Police.
Following investigation and no doubt cognisant of the findings and recommendations of the IPCC case worker, West Midlands Police have admitted full liability and have agreed to compensate him for his injuries and losses.
I am now in the process of commissioning medical evidence which will identify the full nature and extent of my client’s injuries and assessing and determining my client’s losses.
PC Smith’s fate is presently unknown but at least my client now knows that he will be compensated.
In the meantime, I reflect on other similar cases I have dealt with involving the mistreatment of Birmingham City supporters by West Midlands Police, including that of my client Chris in which an officer delivered a deliberate head strike with the ‘blade’ or edge of his riot shield.
When shields and batons are being used in this fashion against non-violent fans, amidst police cries of “Hold the line!” and “Show force!” reminiscent of macho dialogue from the film Gladiator, we have to question the mentality and training of some elements of the West Midlands Police Force who seem to be casting themselves in the role of Romans versus Barbarians, and using militaristic tactics against unarmed and unarmoured opponents.
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