Football club triumphs over policing costs

Posted: 24th July 2012

A judge has delivered a blow to police forces struggling to cope with the huge cost of match day policing at football grounds all over the country.

In a decision which will cost police authorities and the public purse dear, Mr Justice Eady ruled that West Yorkshire Police (WYP) are not entitled to recoup from Leeds United Football Club (LUFC) the cost of policing an ‘extended footprint’ around the club’s Elland Road stadium.

Football StadiumThe judge's decision means that LUFC, whose fans have amongst the worst reputation for violence in football, is only obliged to pay for ‘special police services’ (SPS) provided by WYP on land that the club owns, leases or otherwise controls.

The cost of policing matches at Elland Road is the single biggest drain on WYP’s resources and the judge acknowledged that his ruling would have ‘tiresome’ consequences for the force. In assessing the appropriate charges to be levied on LUFC, WYP will in future have to calculate the percentage of total match day policing costs which can be attributed to land owned or controlled by the club.

LUFC currently contributes a little under £1m-a-year to the cost of SPS provided by WYP in and around the stadium on match days. However, the club objects to having to cover the cost of policing car parks, public highways and other areas near the stadium which it neither owns, nor controls.

WYP deploys hundreds of officers around Elland Road on match days and argued that its ‘holistic’ and ‘seamless’ operations to keep the peace should be paid for by LUFC, whether or not carried out on land owned or controlled by the club.

However, Mr Justice Eady - who acknowledged that his ruling would be ‘unfortunate not only for WYP but also for the public purse’ - said that the majority of peaceful football fans and those who live close to the stadium are entitled to the same level of police protection as any other members of the public.

The costs of policing football matches generally are ‘very considerable and rising’ and the judge said it was ‘hardly surprising’ that WPL are intent on recovering as much as possible of those costs from LUFC. But he ruled that policing of areas outside the club's ownership or control, including car parks and areas where Leeds fans tend to congregate before and after games, ‘fall within the normal constabulary duty to keep the peace’.

The judge did not accept WYP's ‘gloomy prediction’ that his ruling would leave police authorities liable for the entire cost of supervising cycle races on public roads, escorting articulated lorries and other activities carried out on public land. If a police presence is necessary to prevent obstructions of the highway, or is requested by event organisers, he said that there would be no reason why a charge should not be levied for special police services.

LUFC’s policing bill has risen from about £250,000 in the 2007-08 season to around £1 million in 2011-12. The judge’s decision means that the club may now be able to reclaim some of the money it has already paid to WYP on a ‘without prejudice’ basis.