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Football lead top prosecutor urges clubs to stop their fans singing abusive chants

28/03/2012

The Crown Prosecution Service's lead sports prosecutor is today (Wednesday) asking sports authorities to help stamp out racist chants from the sidelines. Nick Hawkins is also calling for education on the use of social media and how offences can be easily prosecuted, to serve as a warning to those who may think that their Twitter account provides anonymity or protection from the law.

"I would strongly urge clubs to seek to stop their fans singing some of their more choice chants", said Nick Hawkins, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in Wessex in his lecture - "Crossing the line - when sport becomes a crime" - today at the University of Portsmouth.

During his lecture, Mr Hawkins focused on these aspects of criminality in sport: crimes on the field of play; crimes in and around stadia; misuse of social media and hate crime around sport.

He explored with the audience the limits of the criminal law and where matters are best left with sports authorities by discussing real case studies.

Mr Hawkins said: "One area where I would argue we need more support from sports authorities is when dealing with inappropriate crowd behaviour and, in particular, chanting.  Making clubs play games behind closed doors hits them in their pockets, and deducting league points lessens a club's chance of qualifying for Europe or promotion, again hitting them financially.

"Football authorities have dealt with violent crowd behaviour this way... I would strongly urge clubs to seek to stop their fans singing some of their more choice chants - do Pompey fans really need to sing about "hitting scummers with a brick"? - and for the authorities to take action about clubs that fail to do so if these abusive chants become a habit. Anyone who follows football and social affairs north of the border will have seen a real reduction in sectarian chanting this season, due to a concerted effort by all parties."

Mr Hawkins told the University of Portsmouth that recently there has been an increase in cases where fans have been abusing players on Twitter and other social media.

He said: "Harassment through social media is covered by existing legislation, such as the Misuse of Communications Act, and we have already seen successful prosecutions in this area. Where the abuse is racist, we can bring that to the attention of the court as an aggravating feature.

"This is an area where I would suggest education, both of what not to do and of how easy it is to detect and prosecute these offences, might prevent the criminalisation of otherwise decent people, but I should stress I would never condone the misuse of social media to commit what would be a hate crime if said face to face. Fortunately, we have had the support of clubs and the games authorities and we work with organisations such as Kick-it-out and through a combination of education, deterrence and robust action we hope to nip this in the bud."

Mr Hawkins is the CPS lead on football and sport matters and has been working very closely with the sports authorities, the UK Football Policing Unit and organisations such as Kick It Out in dealing with hooliganism, football offences and sport offences in and around stadia. He is also initiated the CPS Policy on football-related offences.

During the lecture, he also gave his view on the role that sports authorities should have: "I would suggest that sports authorities have a number of roles. Firstly, to educate players and fans as to what is and is not acceptable in their sport. Secondly, to have a fair, transparent and, where necessary, robust disciplinary framework. Where that is in place there will be less need for the police and prosecutors to become involved. Thirdly, to support investigations and prosecutions, and not to try to misguidedly protect their own or the image of their sport. Fourthly, to take robust action after successful criminal prosecutions."

Throughout his lecture, Mr Hawkins explained the complexity for Crown Prosecutors when presented with such cases. They have to apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors and decide whether the line has been crossed from sport to criminality. Mr Hawkins concluded his lecture by saying: "So when does sport become a crime? For me it is relatively simple in principle and that is: if something was a crime outside sport then it should be a crime inside sport, but applying principles when dealing with practicalities only takes you so far."

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. The full text of the speech is also on to the CPS website.
  2. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  3. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  4. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Division, Special Crime and Counter Terrorism, and Organised Crime. From 1 September 2011, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) prosecution function was transferred to the CPS.  A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  5. In 2010-2011 the CPS employed around 7,745 people and prosecuted 957,881 cases with 116,898 of these in the Crown Court, and the remaining 840,983 in the magistrates' courts. Of those we prosecuted, 93,106 defendants were convicted in the Crown Court and 727,491 in the magistrates' courts. In total 86% of cases prosecuted resulted in a conviction. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  6. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.