Peter Aldous speaks in a debate on the cost of policing football and calls for legislation to reinstate the system, overturned by the recent court case between Suffolk Police and Ipswich Town Football Club, where the police could recover costs of policing roads around the ground that are closed on match days and, in effect, controlled by the club.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am most grateful to you, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and the Minister for allowing me to say a few words. At the outset I must declare an interest, in that I am a lifelong supporter of Ipswich Town. I am a season ticket holder and a shareholder, although those shares are worthless following the club’s administration and the subsequent sale of a controlling interest in the club to the Marcus Evans Group in 2007.
The 2018-19 season goes down as the worst in the club’s history, as we finished rock bottom of the championship. Next season, we shall play outside the top two divisions for the first time in 62 years. In that period, we have achieved a great deal. Under the management of two football knights—Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson—we won the league championship, the FA cup and the UEFA cup. We are the only British club never to lose a home tie in a mainstream European club competition—a record, I sense, we may well retain in perpetuity.
Ipswich’s 2018-19 annus horribilis is not the only recent stain on the club’s reputation. I am afraid we are one of the reasons for the hon. Lady having to secure a debate on this matter. It was Ipswich Town, under the ownership of Marcus Evans, that took Suffolk constabulary to court, and in so doing overturned the principle whereby police forces were able to charge for the deployment of officers on land “owned, leased or controlled” by football clubs. That ruling changed the interpretation of the word “controlled”. Land outside the stadium that is used by a football club, such as to facilitate the entrance and exit of supporters, for granting concessions, such as to burger vans, or for restricting vehicle access by way of temporary road restriction orders, is now defined as “public land”. Police forces are unable to charge full cost recovery on such areas.
I should briefly explain what happens at Ipswich on match days. A few hours before the match until a few hours afterwards, two public roads—Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way—that immediately adjoin the ground are closed to traffic. They, in effect, become part of the stadium. In the court case, Suffolk constabulary’s contention was that policing the roads during those periods is inseparably linked to activities taking place inside the stadium, and thus they fall within Ipswich Town’s responsibility. To me, that seems a logical conclusion. While in many ways I am not qualified to question the court’s ruling, its decision appears perverse.
At Ipswich, the away supporters are seated in the Cobbold stand, which is on Portman Road. A potential trouble hotspot for policing is the junction between Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way, where home and away fans mingle. That risk was heightened in the matches with Leeds United in the past two seasons. Season ticket holders were moved from their seats in the Cobbold stand so that the whole upper tier could be used by away fans, which generated additional income for Ipswich Town.
In that context, it is wrong that Suffolk police are currently not able to recover in full the cost of policing Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. For the two matches against Leeds United, it was necessary for them to deploy additional resources, including mounted police from a neighbouring force. The system before the court case, which had operated since 2012, worked well and thus I urge the Government to bring forward legislation as soon as practically possible. I think there would be strong support from all parts of the House for embedding the previous 2012 framework in statute as soon as possible.
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