Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cover-up claims turn railway battle between Sunderland supporters and police into a legal fight

Posted by; David Conn

Wednesday 26 August 2009 00.10 BST

The Guardian

Force is accused of holding back CCTV footage which may reveal how and why three fans were hospitalised

Sunderland supporters are continuing to dispute Northumbria police's account of an incident at Newcastle Central station this month, when police with dogs and wielding batons left several of their number injured, including three who required hospital treatment, two reportedly for serious head wounds.

A number of the fans, who were returning from Sunderland's pre-season friendly at Hearts on 8 August, have provided consistent accounts and statements to the Football Supporters' Federation alleging that the police action was unprovoked, brutal and excessive. These accounts have come from supporters who were on a train that left Edinburgh at 6:30pm bound for Sunderland and which was diverted to Newcastle. The supporters allege that their train was held at the station for 20-30 minutes before the doors were opened, and that they were then met by police with dogs and batons.

The fans' accounts say they were pushed from behind by one line of police but that officers in front pushed them back. Some fans admit they became frustrated, but all have denied that there was any violence until police officers allowed their dogs to begin biting supporters. Then fans describe police hitting them with batons. Several accounts, which the Guardian has seen, include very similar graphic descriptions of one man with blood spurting from his head after being hit with a baton, then collapsing and lying on the platform in a pool of blood. The supporters have also accused the police of failing to attend to the injured man for some minutes.

Northumbria police has emphatically denied that its actions were excessive. In a series of statements, the force has said its officers mounted an operation to deal with a section of around 40 Sunderland supporters who had arrived on an earlier train, intending, according to police intelligence, to have a pre-arranged fight with Newcastle fans. This section of fans, the police said: "Became violent towards officers who reacted to stop the situation from escalating further."

The police did say, in a later statement, that there was a second train, but stated there was no trouble at all or any action against the fans who came off it. Chief superintendent Neil Mackay described that train as having contained "around 400 genuine football supporters", and said: "These supporters were taken to the Metro station without incident."

That is bitterly contested by supporters who arrived on that second train, some of whom have described what followed as the most traumatic violence they have ever witnessed. The FSF has been advised not to publicise the names of fans who provided statements because of the possibility they might give evidence in future court actions, but has released some extracts. In one, a supporter claimed: "The police, for reasons best known to themselves, launched a vicious assault on some of our fans with their batons and let their dogs repeatedly bite some of the fans who had already received severe head wounds or were already lying prone on the ground as a result of being caught up in the melee the police had created."

The incident was referred automatically to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) because of the injuries sustained by members of the public. Last week Gary Garland, the IPCC commissioner for the North-east, cleared the police of any wrongdoing saying that having viewed "conclusive" CCTV footage, the action was justified.

"The video footage is conclusive that the police in this instance were subjected to a high level of violence by people intent on causing disorder," Garland stated. "In such circumstances the force the officers chose to deploy in defending their position and preventing a further escalation of disorder was understandable, proportionate and justifiable." He went on to praise the policemen's "professionalism and courage", saying it had prevented more serious disorder, and concluded that the IPCC will not be investigating.

"I appreciate for any innocent football supporters who may have been caught up in the trouble the incident would have been traumatic," Garland acknowledged. "However, it is clear a significant number of so-called supporters were intent on causing mayhem. There is no evidence whatsoever to support allegations that the police officers instigated the violence."

Malcolm Clarke, the FSF chairman, yesterday wrote formally to the IPPC calling for a "new thorough investigation", for the full CCTV footage to be released, and to lodge a formal complaint against Garland.

"The police and IPCC version of what happened completely conflicts with all the accounts from supporters," he said. "They have all stated independently that the police action was against people arriving on the second train, and that it was brutal. We do not believe the IPCC has fulfilled its duty by exonerating the police in glowing terms without even talking to witnesses, and we believe there should be a full independent investigation. We do not expect to see football supporters with serious head injuries from police batons." The IPPC has already issued a statement saying Garland stands by his decision.

Supporters caught up in the trouble have also complained bitterly about the police's public statements that followed the incident. Three days afterwards, on 11 August, the force's first press release focused on four police dogs; Earl, Cleo, Floyd and Diesel, which, it said, had been assaulted by "a section of around 40 Sunderland fans". This first statement did not mention a second train, nor a pre-arranged fight with Newcastle fans. Chief superintendent Graham Smith said: "Around 40 fans set upon the officers and dogs, kicking and punching them, and causing injuries to the dogs." After dealing in some detail with the dogs, whose injuries, it said, were not serious, the press release added: "During the disturbance, three Sunderland fans out of the group received hospital treatment. Their injuries are not thought to be serious."

In fact, according to the FSF, one of those in hospital was given 36 surgical staples to bind wounds in his head, while another lost seven pints of blood. Asked why the statement concentrated on the dogs before mentioning that three Sunderland fans had ended up in hospital, a spokeswoman said: "Our dogs were injured as a result of being attacked during the incident and we put out the press release to appeal for witnesses and information. The people who suffered injuries were part of the group who were involved in the attack on dogs and officers. Officers had no option but to respond." She added that officers had administered first aid to the injured people "as soon as they could".

Northumbria police has also released a brief video clip of fans milling around on the platform, and another apparently showing Newcastle supporters preparing to meet them. Neither, however, shows any violence, the police actions, or how the fans, or the dogs, sustained their injuries. A spokesman for the force said the full CCTV footage is not being released because it is being used in the ongoing criminal investigation. The police have not so far explained how the Sunderland fans ended up requiring hospital treatment.

No footage has emerged from any witnesses who independently captured what happened.

Two of the supporters who were treated are understood to be taking legal advice about a possible assault claim against the police and a challenge to the IPCC's decision not to supervise an investigation. Three members of the public have made complaints to the police. A spokeswoman for Northumbria police said an internal investigation is being conducted.


This Is the letter sent to the IPCC by the FSF's Michael Clarke:-

Text of Football Supporters Federation letter of complaint to the Home OfficeThe FSF's complaint against Commissioner Gary Garland concerning the incident at Newcastle Central station involving police and Sunderland fans.

By recorded delivery

Commission Secretariat

Independent Police Complaints Commission

90 High Holborn

London WC1V 6BH

Cc. M. Craik Esq

Chief Constable

Northumbria Police

Bryan Drew, UK Football Policing Unit

Home Office

25 August 2009

Formal complaint against Commissioner Gary Garland

Incident at Newcastle Central Station 8 August

I write on behalf of the Football Supporters Federation to lodge a formal complaint against Commissioner Gary Garland and to request a course of action in relation to the very serious incident involving Northumbria police and Sunderland football supporters at Newcastle Central Station, 8 August 2009.

Sunderland AFC played a pre-season friendly game in Edinburgh on 8 August to which some of their supporters travelled by train. At the stadium a Tannoy announcement was made to the effect that a train additional to the scheduled services, departing 18.30 hours, would take them directly to Sunderland.

Many supporters welcomed this because it was more convenient to be taken all the way to Sunderland. This included some supporters who had tickets for the 18.00hrs scheduled service but chose to wait for the special.

In fact, for whatever reason, the train terminated at Newcastle, not Sunderland. Upon arrival at Newcastle, the supporters were not allowed to disembark the train for a considerable period, estimated by them to be 15-20 minutes. When they did, they were met by police including dog handlers and armed with batons.

A very serious incident then ensued, which resulted in three supporters receiving serious head injuries from police batons requiring hospitalisation and a number of supporters suffering dog bites, in one case with quite serious wounds. One supporter required surgery. In all three cases of the baton injuries, they have continued to suffer adverse reactions. To our knowledge two of the supporters injured by batons have so far sought legal assistance.

The police issued a statement on 11 August which said, inter alia, "A section of around 40 fans set upon the officers and dogs, kicking and punching them, and causing injuries to the dogs" and that "the fans arrived at the station intent on violence".

The police position therefore is that some of the supporters launched an unprovoked attack on unmuzzled police dogs and officers armed with batons.

We have received accounts of this incident from supporters on that train, many of which are in writing. These were made independently by people most of whom did not know each other.

These accounts are startlingly different from the account given by the police. There are some common themes to these accounts which raise three particularly serious issues:

a.It is alleged by the supporters that police at the back were aggressively pushing fans forward towards the police at the front who were either not letting them come forward or were pushing them back. This caused squashing and some fans tripping over.

b.That, in this situation, two police officers allowed their dogs to start biting the supporters, and it was this which triggered the violent confrontation between the police and some of those supporters.

c.That the police failed to tend to the injured supporters on the floor or to quickly summon medical assistance, despite it being obvious that they had serious head injuries. For example, one supporter alleges that he was actually prevented by a police officer from rendering assistance despite telling the officer that he had extensive experience as a TA medic. The officer then failed to take the necessary action himself, despite being advised by the supporter what to do.

Northumbria police rightly referred this matter to the IPCC. We were expecting at the appropriate point to hand the written accounts we have received over to whoever the IPCC appointed to investigate this matter, subject of course to obtaining the permission of the supporters concerned.

We were therefore astonished when Commissioner Garland publicly announced within a very short time that he had concluded an examination of the video evidence on the basis of which he has completely exonerated the police from any blame for the incident and went as far as praising the courage of the police officers. He did so without examining any of the evidence from the supporters, let alone interviewing them. He announced that the IPCC is happy to let Northumbria police conduct their own investigation and that the IPCC will have no further involvement with the matter.

Our legal advice is that the IPCC does not have the option of having no further involvement, and that any investigation by the police must be either managed or supervised by the IPCC.

What is beyond doubt is that by publicly exonerating and praising the police in the way that he did, Commissioner Garland has prejudged and tainted any investigation by the professional standards department of Northumbria police. It is now clearly impossible for ourselves, any Sunderland supporter or indeed any member of the public to have any confidence in an investigation by the Northumbria force, because Mr Garland has already pronounced on the matter.

Indeed one supporter has already told us that he does not wish to proceed with his complaint because he has no confidence in the process and fears that he may be harassed by the police if he makes a complaint. In the light of Mr Garland's action, it is very difficult to present a counter-argument to that supporter.

We believe that because of his unprofessional action in what is an extremely serious matter, Mr Garland should resign as an IPCC commissioner. Regardless of whether he does so, we request that the IPCC appoint another commissioner from another area of the country who does not have a relationship with the Northumbria police to take over this matter and that if the investigation is undertaken by police officers, it should be done by officers from another police force. Nothing less can rescue the process from the situation created by Mr Garland.

There are some further matters which require investigation. First, the police said that they had intelligence that supporters from Sunderland travelling on that train had planned disorder with Newcastle United supporters in the City, and have told the media that this justified their presence on the station to meet that train, and their response to the supporters on it. No one, so far as I know, has questioned the appropriateness of a police presence on the station. That is not the issue.

I have no way of knowing the nature or reliability of any intelligence received by the police. However, what is clear is that the supporters on that train decided to travel on it in the belief that it was going to Sunderland not Newcastle. Any supporter planning disorder in Newcastle would have joined the normal scheduled service not this train. This inconsistency in the police version of events remains unexplained.

In a further statement issued on 17 August, the police now give a different version events from that previously put out by them. The statement says that the train from which supporters were not allowed to disembark for "20 mins" contained "several hundred genuine Sunderland supporters" (very different from "the fans arrived at the station intent on violence") and that "those passengers were taken to the Metro without incident"

Supporters who have given statements to us are crystal clear that they travelled on the special train, whose doors were kept closed for 15-20 minutes and that the incidents with the police occurred with supporters from that train. If the police are not even clear from which train this incident occurred, it is raises serious questions about the accuracy of their understanding of the situation. At the very least it underlines the case for a thorough, independent investigation into exactly what happened.

Second, the police issued a public statement saying that the injuries to the supporters "were not thought to be serious". This statement was untrue and the police had no basis for making it.

Third, the police issued a picture of one of the 'injured' police dogs being petted by a WPC. Such a blatant attempt to play upon public emotion rather than concentrating on a professional investigation of exactly what happened has only inflamed the situation in the eyes of Sunderland supporters and does the force no credit.

Fourth, a limited amount of CCTV footage has been released by the police. This is not helpful. If any footage was to be released, it should be all the footage available, unedited, and that is what should now occur. The public should not be invited to reach conclusions on small amounts of footage chosen by one of the parties involved.

Fifth, we aware that a 16-year old supporter was pulled out of the crowd at Sunderland's game with Chelsea and required to give their details to a camera, in connection with an investigation into this incident. We are advised that this is unlawful and request that the IPCC investigate this incident.

In conclusion, I would stress that the FSF is, and always has been, totally opposed to football-related violence and disorder, wherever it occurs and by whoever it is committed. We have a track record of working closely with the police and the Home and Foreign Offices at national and international levels on football policing issues.

I am also well aware that we have not seen the full CCTV of the incident at Newcastle, and we are certainly not drawing any conclusions at this stage about exactly what caused the incident or whether any offences may have been committed by either supporters and/or police officers or whether police officers breached their own guidelines.

It is however very clear that there is a huge gulf between the versions independently given by supporters and that given by the police and IPCC about the cause of this incident. Head injuries to football supporters caused by police batons are, fortunately, rare in this country, unlike some other countries, because most British police forces tend to be more skilled and experienced in managing situations than some of their foreign counterparts.

For that reason, when such a serious incident as this occurs, it is vital that it is thoroughly and professionally investigated and is seen to be so. If this does not occur then the confidence of football supporters, not only in Sunderland but nationally, in both the police and the IPCC will be seriously eroded, which is not in anyone's interest. And it will fuel the belief that there is in some police forces some institutionalised prejudice against football supporters as a whole. For that reason we request a new thorough investigation by the IPCC conducted by people from outside the north-east, and we lodge a formal complaint against Mr Garland.

The summary of the areas which we believe should be the subject of such an investigation are:

1. Whether the overall management and response of the police to the supporters disembarking from the football special was proportionate and appropriate to the situation and in line with police training and best practice.

2. The circumstances of the serious head injuries to three supporters and whether the use of batons by officers which caused them were justified and lawful.

3. Whether the use of batons, in particular their use on the head, was in line with police training.

4. Whether the use of dogs and their biting of supporters was in line with police training, and, specifically, whether allowing dogs to bite supporters triggered the disorder in this incident.

5. Whether it is true that the supporters were pushed forward from the back whilst officers at the front either did not allow them to move forward or pushed them back, and what role, if any, this played in the disorder.

6. Whether the police properly exercised a duty of care towards the seriously injured supporters and how long it took for them to summon medical assistance.

7. An explanation as to how the police could have intelligence that some people on that train were planning to cause disorder in Newcastle when the people on the train had boarded it in the belief that it was going to Sunderland?

8. Clarification, or otherwise, that the disorder occurred following disembarkation from the special train which was held for 20 minutes not a scheduled train.

9. The circumstances of the police issuing a statement that the injuries to the supporters were not serious.

10. The appropriateness of the use by the police of emotional PR material on the injuries to the dogs.

11. The appropriateness of issuing selective CCTV footage into the public domain.

12. The lawfulness of police actions in requiring supporters, including a minor, to answer questions in front of a camera at a subsequent football match.

(Dr) Malcolm Clarke FRSA, MIBC



Marty Says; "How can anyone ever trust Northumbria Police, it's cover-up after cover-up. Northumbria Police continue to protect IRA murders, bombers in my 1999 attempted murder case. Northumbria Police, if they wanted to, could arrest those who attempted to murder me. Northumbria Police know who they are and where to find them."