Innocence, guilt and the football fan

A judge has thrown out a case brought against a man and his 13-year-old son by the Crown Prosecution Service, lambasting the public body and saying the case should never have come to trial. You may not have heard about it, as the two people concerned were football fans.

You will have heard, though, about the incident that sparked the prosecution last year, though. It came after some vile abuse aimed at Sol Campbell by Spurs fans at Fratton Park, and the names and photographs of those accused were plastered across the national media by the police. Ian Trow and his son Lewis were two of those named and pictured. Their full story is here, but in short the police and media decided the pair were guilty until they were proved innocent – a reversal of the basic principle of UK law.

Football fans’ behaviour is once more the subject of much debate, sparked this time by Arsenal fans’ reaction to Emanuel Adebayor’s celebration after he stuck one past their side at the weekend. Indeed, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign, Respect starts in the stands, to improve supporters’ behaviour.

Now, I should make clear that, in a world where people are dying because they haven’t got enough to eat and where human beings are abused and exploited in so many and such applied ways, a heated debate about football fans and how they behave doesn’t seem to matter very much. But, having established that there are many more important issues in the world, I’d like to make a few points.

First, I don’t believe anything goes in the name of “banter”. Second, I’ve long been irritated by fans who dish it out but complain when they get it back. Everton fans claimed outrage years ago when Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler responded to ‘junkie’ taunts by sniffing the touchline after scoring in a derby, and despite Adebayor’s provocative actions on Saturday, those Arsenal fans didn’t have to let themselves be provoked. It takes two.

But I also think there’s more than hint of something nasty afoot when the police and the press take it upon themselves to act as judge and jury. Many people, especially those of my political persuasion, turned a bit of a blind eye in one of the first high profile occurances of this, that paper the Mail‘s decision to accuse the suspects in the Stephen Lawrence case on its front page because they hadn’t been convicted. And the police pursued a long campaign against Colin Stagg, who they suspected of the murder of Rachel Nickell but could never prove it. Stagg does come across as an unappealing character, but that in itself is not a crime.

The principle of the burden of proof is a very important one. Yet in the case of the Tottenham fans at Portsmouth, it was disregarded. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it assumptions about what football fans were like, rather than examination of the facts, which led to Hillsborough?

The Mail‘s new campaign does not include the principle “Thou shall not accuse people of things they didn’t do”, and the Mail, along with every other paper, has conspicuously failed to cover the overturning of the case against the people they decided were guilty. (I’m happy to have any exceptions pointed out and I will run the links on this blog, but a trawl through yesterday’s news revealed nothing.) Radio 5 Live at least was scheduled to interview Ian and his son as this post went live on Wednesday morning.

The apparent media blackout has increased the suspicion and distrust with which many view journalists, and football fans view sports journalists in particular. There’s a characteristically cutting comment on all this on Harry Hotspur‘s blog, which also makes a good point about some of the loftier assertions made in these cases.

Dishonorable mention must be made, also, of Tottenham Hotspur FC’s spineless and classless decision to ban the named supporters from White Hart Lane, including Ian Trow and his son, before anything was proved.

It may seem a small thing to become exercised about, but the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental one, and if it is undermined then we are on very troubled waters indeed.

#footballfans #sportspress #Spurs

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