Football: Fans fear police threat to protests: Home Office deny 'problem'

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The Independent Online
FANS' demonstrations, witnessed last season from QPR to Celtic, are threatened by the Criminal Justice Bill, the Football Supporters' Association warned yesterday, writes Henry Winter.

The FSA fears the legislation, which goes before Parliament in October, will increase the powers of police to intervene in protests such as the sit- downs at Loftus Road and football-related demonstrations outside the High Court.

'The Bill is a threat to fans' fundamental right of peaceful protest,' Adam Brown, of the FSA, said. 'Take the situations at Manchester City and Celtic last season where fans were protesting - in order to protect the essence of their club. The Bill will affect things like that.'

Mike Slocombe, who is coordinating the FSA-backed campaign, said: 'Fans are ringing me up all the time worried by what the Bill could mean. Things like 'stop and search' in Clause 76, when the police don't have reason to, sit-ins which could be seen as aggravated trespass, and any form of protest outside the ground which could become illegal. Under clauses 63/64 of the Act, some forms of peaceful protest will become a criminal act.

'The Bill is broad and vague but gives police a massive chance to make life hell for fans. We feel it's not up to a policeman to decide if a football protest should go ahead.'

The Home Office dismissed such fears. 'The fans are wrong, there is no problem with any form of peaceful protest,' a spokeswoman said. 'Only if there is violence or severe social disruption will it be used. It gives police the power to act a little quicker.

'If there is a sit-in at a ground, the owners can ask them to leave. If they don't, they can call in the police but the police cannot get them to leave without an eviction order. Providing the fans' protest is peaceful and they are not breaking any law, they can get on with it.'