This year’s derby game between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United takes place tonight, Monday the 4 March. The decision to hold the game on a week night is said to be because of the cost to South Yorkshire Police; apparently previous derby games between the two teams held over a weekend have proved the most expensive fixture in England to police, paid for in large part by South Yorkshire Police themselves.
A main factor in this is the complex geography of Hillsborough which is a fair distance from the City Centre, and so requires a greater amount of policing for fans going to and from the ground.
One of the main routes to and from the ground is along Middlewood Road and it was along this route following the 2012 derby, that an incident occurred that added to South Yorkshire Police’s operation costs… but ultimately did far more to harm South Yorkshire Police’s reputation.
My client Robert and two friends had been to the match. As Robert proceeded down the road with thousands of other football fans, he suddenly felt pain to his right arm and looked down to see an Alsatian Police dog with its jaws locked onto his forearm. The dog was being handled by a female Police Officer.
Robert immediately asked the officer for her name and number because he wished to lodge a complaint.
The officer told Robert in no uncertain terms to move on.
Robert asked several more times for the officer’s details but she refused to give them.
A male uniformed officer approached Robert and also told him to move away and then physically pushed him away from the area.
Robert met up with a group of friends and told them what had happened. His friends encouraged him to return to find the female officer, to establish her details so as to lodge a complaint.
Robert decided to do so and returned to where the officer was positioned.
Once again Robert asked the officer for her details. Again she refused and simply said words to the effect of “I’m the only female dog handler working today, now go away.”
Robert began to walk away and came across an ambulance crew tending to another football supporter who had also been bitten by a police dog. Robert’s injuries were noted by the paramedics and other police officers on duty. A second ambulance was called.
Robert was then taken by ambulance to the Northern General Hospital where he received appropriate treatment.
On the following day, Robert attended a local police station in order to lodge a complaint.
Robert was subsequently contacted by an officer of South Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department (‘PSD’) and was advised that his complaint would be investigated.
Nearly two months later, two uniformed police officers attended out of the blue at Robert’s home address. Robert assumed that they had come so as to discuss his complaint. Instead they served him with a Fixed Penalty Notice which alleged that he had:
‘Committed a public order offence on Middlewood Road, Sheffield known as sec 5’.
His options were to either accept the Notice and pay a fine, or challenge the Notice whereupon he would be summonsed to attend Court.
The very next day, Robert received a letter from South Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department with a response to his complaint.
The investigating officer had identified the female dog handler as PC W.
PC W responded to the complaint as follows;
I had the dog held as close to me as was possible and I was shouting verbal instructions throughout. Robert was behaving in an aggressive and disorderly manner. He appeared drunk and was verbally abusive. I do not consider the bite to be unprovoked. At the time Robert was bitten, he was in extremely close proximity to me. Robert did not leave the area until the horses forced him away.”
Robert was a man of good character and had had no previous dealings with the Police. He knew he had done no wrong; his only “crime” was to remonstrate about being bitten and to ask the officer for her details.
To all intents and purposes, it looked to me very much like South Yorkshire Police had decided to prosecute my client simply because he had had the temerity to lodge a complaint.
Robert lodged an appeal against the Fixed Penalty Notice, expecting to receive a Court Summons. As it was, South Yorkshire Police decided not to prosecute.
On Robert’s behalf, I then intimated a claim alleging among other heads of claim, assault and battery and misfeasance in public office.
In responding to the claim, South Yorkshire Police denied liability and provided disclosure including;
A Use of Force form completed by PC W which stated as follows;
“Police Dog dispersal tactics. Male in blue top committing Public Order offences. Bitten on arm by Police Dog and also had to be moved on by use of Police Horse” and “Male bitten on arm as a result of refusing to follow Police instruction”.
A dog bite report in which PC W reported the incident somewhat differently;
“As fans were leaving the ground, the trams quickly filled with supporters, namely SUFC fans travelling into city. At 1500 hours a flash point occurred whereby SWFC fans were on foot and ‘engaged’ the tram and occupants with insulting and abusive behaviour and a number of males were seen to be hammering on the doors and windows of the tram. This tram was some 20 yards in front of me and myself and PC A moved forward to conclude crowd dispersal tactics.
The serial in front of us were unprotected officers. I am aware that PC A was involved in the arrest of a male who had been banging the windows of the tram. At this point I was holding the roadway to immediately protect the tram and its occupants and as the dog was barking the crowd were being forced to use the pavement creating the desired effect of the dispersal tactic. I am aware that an elderly male stepped off the pavement into the path of Police Dog Rover and he briefly bit his left forearm and immediately released. I shouted to the male to go to the nearest Police Officer ahead of him. I was unable to immediately engage with this man directly as males were fighting immediately behind him and public disorder was continuing. Groups of males appeared heavily intoxicated offering aggression to opposing fans.
A fight ensured onto the roadway in front of me and I can recall a white male aged early 20’s wearing a blue tracksuit top, walking briefly against crowd flow towards the roadway. He was shouting at opposing fans on the trams and those behind me and his behaviour was inflammatory causing others around him to engage in similar behaviour. As I was conducting dispersal tactics the male was bitten on the arm. No officer was immediately able to come forward and arrest this male under the Public Order Act. He continued with disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet and I did In fact believe he was drunk. His behaviour continued as such that mounted officers arrived and I can recall seeing the male having to be further dispersed by officers using mounted tactics. The male was repeatedly asked to move on and eventually only complied due to peer pressure from his friends.
I immediately reattended Shepperson Road where I saw the first male who had been bitten on the forearm. Officers were already performing first aid and I approached him to help and obtain details.
He was argumentative and whilst I explained that whilst he was not committing public order offences he had refused to follow police instruction and had stepped into the roadway that was being protected by police dogs. I advised him to make contact with Police once he had received medical attention. I am aware an ambulance was requested for the male.”
PC W subsequently prepared a witness statement in which she elaborated yet further;
As fans were leaving the ground, the trams quickly filled with supporters, namely SUFC fans travelling into city. At 1500 hours a flash point occurred whereby SWFC fans were on foot and ‘engaged’ the tram and occupants with insulting and abusive behaviour and a number of males were seen to be hammering on the doors and windows of the tram. The majority of these fans on foot were wearing blue and white Sheffield Wednesday clothing and were chanting to those persons on the tram ‘FUCK OFF BACK TO YOUR STY YOU PIGGY CUNTS. The tram was some 20 yards in front of me and myself and PC A moved forward to conduct crowd dispersal tactics.
The serial in front of us were unprotected officers. I am aware that PC A was involved in the arrest of a male who had been banging on the windows of the tram. At this point I was holding the roadway to immediately protect the tram and its occupants and as the dog was barking the crowd were being forced to use the pavement creating the desired effect of the dispersal tactic. Rover was as close to me as I could get him as I was actually holding him by the collar, and he was rearing up onto his two back legs. I was consistently shouting, ‘GET BACK, GET BACK’ and using my arms to indicate to people to get back onto the pavement away from the dog and the tram. Rover was barking constantly.
Groups of males appeared heavily intoxicated continued offering aggression to opposing fans. A fight ensued onto the roadway in front of me and I can recall a white male aged early 20’s wearing a blue tracksuit top, walking briefly against crowd flow towards the roadway. He was slim build with very short brown hair and slim build. He was shouting at opposing fans on the trams and those behind me and his behaviour was inflammatory causing others around him to engage in similar behaviour. I can recall him making signs with his hands that I believe were simulating masturbation and he continued moving against the crowd flow towards the tram shouting, ‘GET YOUR CATTLE WAGON AND SHOW US YOU’RE REALLY MADE OF BACON’.
I was clearly identifiable as a Police Officer, dressed in full police uniform. I believe I was identifiable as a Police Dog handler in charge at that time of a Police dog. Rover was barking and looked aggressive. I was stationary, standing my ground and also using my right arm to identify to people to get back, as well as shouting, ‘GET BACK, GET BACK, KEEP MOVING’. As I was conducting dispersal tactics the male who was stood in front of me waving his arms at the tram was bitten on the arm. The dog immediately released. Due to growing numbers of fans gathering in the locality and the hostility of pedestrians towards those people on the trams, I was unable to directly deal with this male, and my priority was to gain control of pedestrian activity and further disorder. I knew from the bite capabilities of Police Dog Rover that other than the likelihood a ripped sleeve, the male would have suffered only grazing and immediate medical assistance was not necessary.
No officer was immediately able to come forward and arrest this male under the Public Order Act. He continued with disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet and I did in fact believe he was drunk. His behaviour continued as such that mounted officers arrived and I can recall seeing the male having to be further dispersed by officers using mounted tactics.
The male was repeatedly asked to move on and eventually only complied due to peer pressure from his friends.
CCTV footage from a Police spotter however showed the following;
At 15.08.06h PC W is seen to move to stand beside a lamppost struggling with Police dog Rover, which she was now holding by its lead.
At 15.08.12h Robert is seen with his face turned towards the tram, walking but not violent.
At 15.08.14h Robert walks past PC W and is bitten and thereafter does indeed remonstrate with the officer before being pushed away. There is however no suggestion of drunkenness or disorder on his part or anyone close to him.
The available evidence therefore suggested that;
• Police Dog Rover was not under control and in the space of a few minutes, Police Dog Rover had bitten both an elderly man and Robert.
• There had indeed been flash points of disorder, but Robert was not involved in any of them; rather, he was simply proceeding away from the stadium along with thousands of others.
In the face of no admission of liability from the Police, I issued County Court proceedings on behalf of Robert.
The solicitors appointed to represent South Yorkshire Police advised that their client intended to “robustly defend” the claim and that they were confident that their client would “establish a successful Defence”.
Indeed, their defence was robust, disputing the claim in its entirety and stating that Robert, immediately before he was bitten, “was shouting. His behaviour was inflammatory. He made signs with his hands that was simulating masturbation”. Further they alleged that he waved his arms and jumped around in front of PC W and Rover in very close proximity to Rover and that after he had been bitten, he “continued with his disorderly behaviour. His eyes were glazed, he was unsteady on his feet and appeared drunk”. He was repeatedly asked to move on but “was aggressive and abusive with the officers trying to move him on”.
The claim proceeded and then, just weeks before trial, the Police caved in. They agreed to compensate Robert with a five-figure award of damages and to pay his legal costs. The final settlement was in excess of £100,000.00. If this is the way South Yorkshire Police normally conduct their Police dog operations, and how, as I suspect, they routinely respond to legitimate claims and complaints against them, it might go a long way to showing why the policing of this football fixture has become so expensive.
Sadly, and of more significance, this is yet another example to add to my long experience of seeing Police Forces “trump up” criminal charges against innocent members of the public who have suffered at their hands (or, indeed, as in this case, teeth) in order to deflect from the Police’s own wrongdoing. This kind of utterly reprehensible and in my opinion quite deliberate behaviour, has become institutionalised in many, if not all, Forces; to callously and cynically attempt to criminalise people who have had the misfortune to fall foul of Police violence. All who are involved in this kind of cover-up should hang their heads in shame.