Police attendance at football matches – Defendant police force providing police services in certain identified streets and public areas beyond stadium and areas owned and controlled by claimant football club (the extended footprint)

Leeds United Football Club v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police: Court of Appeal, Civil Division: 7 March 2013

Section 25(1) of the Police Act 1996 (the 1996 act) provided that 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…of charges….'. In the instant case, the claimant football club (the club) had requested and the defendant police force (WYP) had provided police services: (i) within the club’s stadium; (ii) in the areas immediately outside the stadium that were owned or controlled by the club; and (iii) in certain identified streets and public areas beyond the stadium and the areas owned or controlled by the club (the extended footprint).

The extended footprint included public highways, a number of residential streets as well as other public areas such as car parks and open spaces. The club had always accepted that the police services provided in (i) and (ii) were 'special police services' (SPS) within the meaning of section 25 of the 1996 act. The club issued proceedings in order to determine whether the police services provided in the extended footprint were also SPS. In the High Court, the judge held that the services provided in the extended footprint were not SPS, but are police services provided in discharge of WYP’s ordinary public duty to prevent crime and protect life and property for which they were not entitled to charge the club. WYP appealed.

The principal issue was whether the law-and-order services provided by WYP in the extended footprint were in discharge of their public duty to maintain law and order and protect life and property or were SPS requested by the club. Consideration was given to Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd [1987] 2 All ER 838 (Harris) in which Neill LJ suggested four factors to be taken into account when addressing the question of whether, having regard to the chief constables duty to enforce the law, the provision of officers could properly be considered as the provision of SPS (see [11] of the judgment). Consideration was also given to the 'benefit test' in West Yorkshire Police Authority v Reading Festival Ltd [2006] All ER (D) 40 (May) (Reading Festival Ltd). The appeal would be dismissed.

The provision of policing services at football matches on private land at the request of a football club would usually be SPS except where the police were summoned to deal with actual or imminent violence. Of the four factors suggested by Neill LJ in Harris, the first was the most important in the context of policing to maintain law and order. The question of whether services were provided on public or private land was plainly of central importance to whether they were SPS where those services were provided in order to promote the maintenance of law and order. The second factor was closely related to the first. The fact that there was actual or imminent violence at private premises might well indicate that the provision of police services at those premises for law and order purposes was in performance of the general police duty and not SPS. 

However, attendance at private premises just in case there was an outbreak of violence was likely to be SPS. On the other hand, policing provided in a public place in order to protect persons and property, even where there was no actual or imminent threat of violence, would usually be in discharge by the police of their ordinary public duty. As regards the third factor, professional football matches attended by thousands of members of the public were essentially public events.

In respect of the fourth factor, the question whether the provision of services placed a particular strain on resources was unlikely to shed much light on whether those services were SPS. As to additional factor referred to in Reading Festival Ltd, the focus on who benefited from the police service might be a relevant part of the analysis of whether the service provided fell within the scope of the police officer's ordinary duties. If the police operation was conducted predominantly for the protection of the public at large, that was a factor which pointed strongly against the services being SPS.

However, the benefit test ought not be regarded as determinative or even necessarily of great weight in all cases. To consider ex post facto whether the services provided by the police benefited the general public or particular groups or individuals was too narrow an approach since it overlooked the fact that there was a real public interest in the police maintaining law and order (see [30]-[34] of the judgment).

In the instant case, the policing of the extended footprint on match days was provided in order to maintain law and order and protect life and property in a public place. The law and order services provided by WYP in the extended footprint were not different in principle from the law and order services that they provided in any other public place (see [45]-[47] of the judgment). Glasbrook Bros Ltd v Glamorgan County Council [1924] All ER Rep 579 applied; Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd [1987] 2 All ER 838 applied; West Yorkshire Police Authority v Reading Festival Ltd [2006] All ER (D) 40 (May) considered; Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Ltd [2007] All ER (D) 394 (Dec) considered. Decision of Eady J [2012] All ER (D) 261 (Jul) affirmed.

Michael Beloff QC and Mark Gay (instructed by Burges Salmon Solicitors) for the club; John Beggs QC and James Berry (instructed by West Yorkshire Police Legal Services) for WYP.