Examining who should meet the costs of policing at sporting events in light of the Court of Appeal decision in West Yorkshire Police -v- Leeds United FC

It has been a few weeks since I wrote a post that raised issues of how the law impacts on the sporting world. Just as I was starting to rack my brain for an angle to a story one practically fell into my lap in the form of West Yorkshire Police -v- Leeds United FC which involved the question of who should pay for the costs of policing at football matches. Should the police swallow any additional costs incurred in policing a ground or could they recover the costs from the football club where the match was being held?

In 2008 Wigan Athletic took Greater Manchester Police to court over how much they were being charged to police their games. In Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Limited [2008] EWCA Civ 1449 the Court of Appeal held that a football club was not obliged to pay for a level of policing that has been provided in circumstances where it has been made clear from the outset that it is not prepared to pay for it, notwithstanding the fact that it has received the benefit of that level of policing. In these circumstances there is no request for that level of policing for the purposes of s.25 Police Act 1996, no contract, and no liability in restitution.

Following the judgment in Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Limited the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) released a guidance document on football deployment and recovery of costs which can be seen here.

More recently in July 2012 in the High Court Leeds United FC won a legal challenge against West Yorkshire Police over the cost of policing matches. In Leeds United FC v West Yorkshire Police [2012] EWHC 2113 (QB), Mr Justice Eady, who was shown footage of crowds around Elland Road Stadium, was asked to consider to what extent West Yorkshire could recoup policing costs around the “immediate environs of the club premises”. Leeds United were at the time paying nearly £1m per year towards “special police services”. This amounted to a fourfold increase from the £250,000 it had been paying three years previous.

West Yorkshire Police had argued that it was entitled to levy charges on the club based on a “footprint”, which included policing on the public highway and on publicly accessible land such as car parks and bus stations. Leeds United did not object to paying for policing either within the grounds of Elland Road or on land owned, leased or controlled by it. Mr Justice Eady held that policing on the public highway and on public land fell within “the normal constabulary duty to keep the peace”. He therefore ruled that the costs of such policing were not recoverable by the police from Leeds United.

West Yorkshire Police went on to appeal the decision and this was released today. The Court of Appeal in London rejected the police’s claims that the club should be responsible for paying for the policing of streets and car parks near the ground. The Court of Appeal heard from the Police’s lawyer that it cost West Yorkshire police about £350,000 a season to provide policing for Leeds United’s home games. He went on to argue that the area required no policing whatsoever on non-match-days, with one community support officer patrolling the entire area a few times a day as part of a larger beat. Yet, on match-days, numerous officers were required to ensure law and order and the safety for members of the public.

In reaching its decision the Court of Appeal, headed by the Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, sitting with Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice McCombe, said:

“The policing of the extended footprint on match-days is provided in order to maintain law and order and protect life and property in a public place. None of the arguments advanced on behalf of West Yorkshire Police persuades me that the law and order services provided by them in the extended footprint are different in principle from the law and order services that they provide in any other public place.”

This is clearly a significant case, which establishes what the police can charge for in the interests of maintaining law and order. Of course there is nothing in the judgment to suggest that the ramifications are only limited to football matches but can also be extended to all sporting events, demonstrations, concerts, or festivals.

Extra-time

It has recently been revealed that Leeds United have been paid £1.2m by police chiefs after the High Court ruled in favour of the club’s claim that they had been overcharged for policing at home games.

High Court judge, Sir David Eady, revealed the developments during the latest stage of the dispute between the club and West Yorkshire Police, with Leeds United alleging that they are still owed over £800,000 by the police force.

Detailing the repayments in a written judgment following at a High Court hearing in London in June, Sir David Eady said: “In July 2012, I ruled that Leeds United Football Club had been charged for special police services over the three preceding football seasons, in respect of home matches, on a basis that was in part unlawful.

“It thus became necessary to find a methodology by which to calculate the appropriate rebate. It did not prove possible for the parties to agree a formula. Each proposed a distinct methodology. West Yorkshire Police has paid Leeds United Football Club £1,238,816.61 which is said to represent the total loss including interest.

“Leeds United Football Club, on the other hand, seeks a further £844,016.36 plus interest (to include claims in respect of 2012-13 and 2013-14).”

This case seems set to run and run for some time to come. Of course, it remains to be seen for how long and whether or not we will end up going to penalties.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice. This blog was updated on 4th August 2014 with ‘Extra-time’.

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