Football fans bond over many things but few expect to form a friendship based around their shared experience of taking legal action against the club they love. But this is exactly what happened to QPR supporters Bob (57) and Graham (52) who sought help from the Football Supporters’ Federation. This article first appear on FSF’s website here.
Both Bob and Graham have different stories to tell, and neither wanted to resort to such drastic legal action, but they were ultimately left with no choice due to the nature of their grievances which shared a number of similarities such as false allegations and undue force being used against them by stewards.
Graham’s tale started in April 2010 at an evening game against Watford. He was at the match with his 17-year-old nephew, who he’d been going to Loftus Road with for 15 years. To protect his nephew’s identity, we’ll call him Paul. Their seats were near the away fans section and, during the game, Paul took part in the usual banter that was flying back and forth. He was standing up but wasn’t threatening or aggressive.
Early in the second half Graham noticed a steward speaking to Paul, although he couldn’t hear what was being said. Paul then got up and went with the steward towards the exit. Graham followed and, once on the concourse, spoke to three male stewards and one female steward, with the female taking the lead. To protect her identity we’ll call her Steward X. Steward X was asking Paul for his name and address, which he refused to give. Graham asked why she wanted these details and was ignored.
An ultimately futile exchange continued with Steward X allegedly being verbally aggressive throughout. Graham and Paul remained calm and didn’t use any abusive language. Given they were getting nowhere, Graham and his nephew decided to leave the ground.
As they were going through the exit gate, Steward X put her hand towards Paul; concerned that she was about to grab him, Graham moved forward to place himself between them. His view was that they were co-operating, leaving peacefully, and nobody had any right to physically touch them.
Unprovoked and disproportionate
It was now that the situation rapidly deteriorated. Steward X pushed Graham away and a male steward grabbed him from behind, attempting to pull him back into the gate and get him in a headlock. Paul tried to assist but was ushered away.
Graham was still being pulled away, by now four stewards were involved, including Steward X who Graham says spat in his face, called him a ‘***ing bastard’ and told him not to touch her. She said that Graham was the aggressor and the response team was needed. Graham admits to struggling against the force used, which he says was unprovoked and disproportionate.
He was ultimately forced up against a corrugated iron fence and then to the floor by a member of the response team. During the struggle, Graham’s glasses came off and broke; he suffered pain due to somebody kneeling on his back and sustained a cut to his face.
By now the police were on the scene and Graham was aware of Steward X speaking to an officer although he was unable to hear what was being said. Shaken up, Graham left the stadium and met up with Paul.
The next day, Graham contacted the club’s safety officer and the (then) chairman advising them of the incident and asking them to both look at the CCTV and monitor the behaviour of Steward X. One week later the club replied stating the matter was sub judice so they couldn’t comment, beyond saying they didn’t think the stewards had done anything wrong.
The next correspondence Graham received was a court summons advising him to attend the Magistrates’ Court to answer a charge of common assault against Steward X who had accused Graham of punching her in the breast and of being abusive and intimidating.
After reviewing the CCTV and noting contradictions between the stewards witness statement and what he saw, Graham’s solicitor advised him very strongly to plead not guilty, which was exactly Graham’s intention. The case was adjourned until mid-August but come the time neither Steward X, nor another steward who was due to act as a prosecution witness, attended due to illness. Thereafter the prosecution offered no evidence and the case was thrown out of court.
Graham left the court as he’d entered it – an innocent man.
Shocked at how he’d been treated, and given the previous response he’d received from the club, Graham decided his only option was to seek legal advice. The legal claim was first brought to the attention of the club in November 2010 and concluded in July 2014. The club fought the case for more than three years, at one point saying Graham’s accusations were ‘insulting’, before eventually agreeing to pay him compensation and his legal costs.
Graham did eventually receive compensation of between £7,000 and £8,250 (he doesn’t want to disclose the exact figure) but that doesn’t take away the bitter taste left by the whole experience. He says the club even refused to sell him tickets for a match that he wanted to take his terminally ill brother to. Graham, a fourth generation QPR supporter, is unsure as to whether he’ll ever step foot in Loftus Road again. Can money ever make up for that?
Here we go again…
The next case used the same solicitor, Darren White of Deighton Pierce Glynn. Proceedings were launched against QPR by Bob, a season ticket holder and supporter since 1963, for assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and breach of contract.
Darren used his legal experience to inform QPR’s legal team that he ‘cannot recall any claimant for whom he has acted, in whose credibility at trial he felt more confidence’. However, QPR’s lawyers stated that they would vigorously contest Bob’s claims. This is what his case was about…..
On 12 March 2011 Bob went with his 15-year-old son and a school friend to the home game against Crystal Palace. Some 54 minutes in QPR took the lead after scoring a penalty. The away fans responded by throwing missiles at the QPR keeper, which led to stewards being deployed around the pitch.
The deployment of a single steward in front of the West Paddock led to repeated requests by supporters for the steward to move as he was causing an unnecessary obstruction to their view of the game. Eventually the steward moved only to obstruct Bob and other season ticket holders, including those with disabilities.
Repeated requests from Bob’s section of the crowd led to the steward making a number of ‘zip your mouth’ type gestures to QPR fans. The provocative steward eventually retreated to join other stewards in front of the away fans.
After about 15 minutes the steward, accompanied by a supervisor and yet another steward, returned to the West Paddock and approached Bob who was in the first seat in the front row. The senior steward demanded that Bob follow him into the adjacent tunnel.
Unsure why he had been singled out from the crowd Bob refused to leave his seat so the three stewards surrounded him but refused to explain why they wanted to speak to him. The impasse led to threats from the stewards including threats of his physical removal, a football banning order and the police being called.
Eventually, Bob voluntarily followed the stewards into the tunnel and out of the view of the numerous stadium CCTV cameras. The senior steward repeatedly demanded that Bob ‘look him in the eye’ which he refused to do. Bob alleges he was then attacked by the stewards and forcibly dragged into a dead-end section of the tunnel. He suffered head and arm injuries and says the stewards repeatedly tried to stamp on his feet.
This only ended when Bob was arrested by police who had not witnessed any of the earlier events. He was detained at the police station and his injuries were recorded by a police doctor. Bob was issued with a Police Penalty Notice (PPN) which stated that he used ‘threatening words/behaviour towards stewards after being seen throwing a coin/can. You were aggressive and used foul language’. He refused to sign for the PPN and only knew about the coin throwing allegation after leaving the station.
Nine witnesses, including two QPR employees, provided Bob with statements in direct contradiction of the evidence of the three QPR stewards. All nine witnesses independently corroborated each other and agreed Bob never swore, threw any object or had behaved badly.
On 19th April 2011 QPR confirmed in writing that Bob was not ‘involved in anything to do with coin throwing or indeed throwing anything’. A complaint was made to the Metropolitan Police whose investigation concluded that a PC Jackson made an error in stating that Bob was seen throwing coins.
PC Jackson said this was a result of misreading the arrest notes. The police concluded that there was no evidence of malice on his part. The complaint was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission who concluded that misconduct could not be proven on the balance of probabilities regarding this issue.
After three years and five months QPR agreed to pay a settlement of £12,500 plus costs to Bob. Legal costs are likely to be very high. The actions of three QPR stewards on a lone supporter could cost the club up to £200,000.
Darren’s view throughout both cases was, simply, that the club were attempting to defend the indefensible. It was their stance which led to protracted proceedings, putting unnecessary stress and worry on both of his clients. You would hope all of this would encourage QPR to review their stewarding operation.
However, I’ve dealt with further complaints from Loftus Road. A third supporter, a fan of Sunderland AFC referred to Darren White by us, has recently settled a claim against QPR. His complaints were similar in nature to those of Bob’s and Graham’s.
I met with the club’s operation manager, Jenny Winstanley-Griston, in spring 2014 and she promised the club would review their stewarding operation. Let’s hope they do and that the cost of legal proceedings, not to say reputational damage, has taught the club a salutary lesson. Rightly, there is high expectation of good supporter behaviour – the same standards must apply to stewards too.
- If you have any complaints or queries in relation to policing/stewarding at game, email Amanda Jacks on firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @fsf_faircop.
The FSF asked QPR for their response, a club spokesperson said:
‘As a club we take the welfare and enjoyment of all fans at Loftus Road very seriously. We are disappointed if on a small number of occasions this falls shorts of the standards we would expect. We regret the fact that these supporters in question felt they had to take legal action to seek redress and would like to apologise to them for any distress caused by this process. We continue to strive to strike a balance between safety and customer experience and as promised a full review is undertaken at the end of each season with improvements identified and implemented where required. There have been many changes in operating practices and personnel since 2010/11 and we are confident that similar situations will not occur again.’