The recent High Court decision in Leeds United Football Club Ltd v The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police has provided much needed guidance on whether football clubs or police authorities are legally responsible for the costs of match day policing provided outside stadiums.
Traditionally football clubs were only charged for policing carried out on their own property and the costs of policing outside stadiums would be borne by public funds on the basis that they fell within the duty of police officers to keep the peace and maintain public order. However, policing costs have increased in recent years and, since the recession, more restraints have been imposed on public funds. Police authorities have, therefore, attempted to recover these additional costs from football clubs by widening the scope of claims to include costs of policing within areas of land around the vicinity of stadiums without regard to whether the land in question is actually owned, leased or under control by the football club in question.
In the case of Leeds United, West Yorkshire Police charged Leeds United for the cost of policing carried out on land around Leeds United's stadium, Elland Road, including car parks and residential areas, which Leeds United did not own, lease or control and so the club challenged the legality of these charges. It was not disputed that West Yorkshire Police could charge the Club for police services carried out within the stadium or on any land owned, leased or controlled by the Club, however, the issue before the court was whether West Yorkshire Police could charge for police services carried out beyond such areas.
Leeds United's case was that by charging them for policing carried out beyond its own land, and land which it controls, West Yorkshire Police were effectively seeking payment for the discharge of their common law duty to keep the peace. The basic common law principle that was identified in the case of Glasbrook Bros Ltd v Glamorgan County Council was that "any attempt by a police authority to extract payment for services which fall within the plain obligations of the police force, should be firmly discountenanced by the Courts."
However, there are certain situations where the police can charge for the provision of policing providing the services extended beyond normal policing duties, otherwise known as special police services.
Section 25(1) of the Police Act 1996 provides as follows:
"The chief officer of police of a police force may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the [local policing body] of charges on such scales as may be determined by [that body]."
The application of Section 25(1) in a football context has previously received judicial attention.
In Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd, the Court of Appeal held that in order for football matches to take place, it was necessary for police officers to attend inside the ground so, in such circumstances, a request by the club for special police services was to be implied. West Yorkshire Police relied on Harris by claiming that the police services they provided only benefited Leeds United and those who attended their matches thus they should be categorised as special police services which have been implicitly requested by the Club. West Yorkshire Police also relied on the case of Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Ltd where Justice Mann was asked to decide whether the police authority were entitled to charge the club for police services carried out within certain areas outside the stadium. The Judge concluded that the police authority were able to recover the costs of policing carried out outside the stadium on the basis that the areas in question were controlled by the club.
In deciding whether West Yorkshire Police's policy came within Section 25(1), Justice Eady also considered the case of West Yorkshire Police Authority v Reading Festival Ltd, which involved a promoter of a music festival who made clear to the relevant police authority (also West Yorkshire Police) that it would only pay for officers based on the festival site and not the cost of police officers deployed off the site save for those managing traffic. However, proceedings were brought by West Yorkshire Police claiming the costs of the entire police operation in reliance upon Section 25(1). At first instance, it was found that the promoter had made an implied request for special police services despite there being no agreement as to how those officers were to be deployed or how they were to be paid for and so the Judge upheld the claim for police costs to be recovered from the promoter. However, the decision was subsequently overturned on appeal given that the services provided by the police authority were different from those requested by the promoter and, since the police services provided were not necessary in order for the festival to take place, the services were not treated as having been impliedly requested under s.25(1) like in Harris. The police authority was, therefore, not entitled to charge for the attendance of officers outside the festival site.
Whilst West Yorkshire Police relied upon the cases of Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd and Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Ltd to justify charging Leeds United for the police services carried out within the areas outside Elland Road, Justice Eady distinguished both cases as they involved police authorities claiming to recover the costs of policing carried out on land either owned, leased or controlled by the football club whilst West Yorkshire Police were claiming to recover the cost of policing carried out on certain areas of public land or areas owned by third parties, which were not controlled by the club. It was, therefore, implied from both judgments that the costs of policing would not have been recoverable if the services had been rendered on land in public ownership.
Also, in accordance with the decision in West Yorkshire Police Authority v Reading Festival Ltd, the officers were not there at Leeds United's request, as contemplated by Section 25(1), and their presence not only benefited the club but also other members of the public including local residents whose properties were sometimes vandalised near local car parks. As a result, Justice Eady concluded that policing in such areas fell within the police authority's duty to keep the peace and, therefore, did not entitle West Yorkshire Police to charge Leeds United for such services.The decision makes it clear that the law, as it stands, only permits police authorities to charge football clubs for policing carried out on land which the football club either owns, leases or controls. West Yorkshire Police feel the judgment will have a "significant impact" on the taxpayer and that "the impact of the judgement cannot be underestimated." However, if the government wants to extend the scope of police services, and to ensure recoupment of police costs incurred over a wider area, legislation would be necessary.