WEST Yorkshire Police look set to hand back more money to Leeds United for wrongfully-levied matchday policing charges after a new ruling by a High Court judge.
United are seeking more than £2.5 million from the force after a court ruled in 2012 that charging for ‘special policing services’ provided by officers outside their Elland Road ground was “in part unlawful”.
Leeds had objected to being forced to contribute to policing costs for land around the ground that is neither club-owned nor controlled for three seasons.
So far the force has paid £1,238,817, which is said to represent the total loss including interest, but Leeds United say they are entitled to a further £844,017 plus interest.
On the basis of clarifying remarks made today by High Court Judge David Eady, the force now says it will meet with the club in the coming weeks “to agree what, if anything, remains outstanding”.
The dispute is partly based on the different methodologies being used to work out how much should be re-imbursed by West Yorkshire Police.
But the two parties also disagreed on whether charges should be made for policing in the “Lowfields Triangle” between the stadium itself and the nearby Lowfields Road.
In a ruling released today, Judge Eady said the police methodology intended to “identify the element of all relevant match-day policing operations in respect of which a charge was unlawfully made”, but said the club described it as “vague and lacking in transparency”.
He said: “It was on the basis of this methodology that WYP repaid the rebate it thought due and claims now that no more is owed.
“As a matter of principle, however, it cannot be appropriate for the court to quantify loss on the basis of assumptions made by one of the parties and without having available a method to check the validity of those assumptions.”
Judge Eady said both of the rival methodologies had drawbacks, but that he preferred an approach “which takes established fact as the starting point, making due adjustment for changing circumstances, and minimises the need for assumption or speculation”.
He added: “The attraction of the LUFC method is that it proceeds on the basis of the charges made for the 2008-9 season, when the actual cost of policing within the stadium can be established with some confidence.”
He concluded: “When this exercise is carried out, it should be possible to identify within a reasonable margin of error the likely cost of policing within the stadium for each of the later seasons.
“Consequently, one can infer the amounts by which those notional ‘stadium costs’ were exceeded in the invoices rendered.
“I have not been able to produce an exact calculation of the loss, but I hope that I have resolved the key issues of principle and that this will enable a final figure to be reached between the parties. There will be liberty to apply.”
On the issue of whether charges could be made for policing in the “Lowfields triangle”, the judge said the wording of previous judgements “tends to confirm that WYP were always entitled to proceed on the basis that charges could properly be made”.
During a previous hearing, the force accused the club of changing its case in a bid for a rebate for policing which it had previously accepted it should pay for.
John Beggs QC said the club had always agreed it was liable to contribute to policing in areas that it “owned, leased or controlled”.
But it had now “moved the goalposts” and contested charges for policing some areas of private land close to the ground.
In the appeal case last year, the club successfully argued that hundreds of officers involved in crowd control around the stadium were only doing their public duty.
In a statement released today, West Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom said: “We welcome the judgment today which has endorsed the legal position as understood by West Yorkshire Police.
“The original High Court judgment and the Court of Appeal had stated that the costs of police officers deployed on land ‘owned, leased and controlled’ by the club could be charged for as Special Police Services rather than paid for out of the public purse.
“Leeds United had sought to argue that land they owned outside the stadium (on Lowfields Road and their West stand car park) was public land during match periods and that the policing there should be publicly funded.
“In his judgment, Sir David Eady makes it clear that Leeds United were wrong in their interpretation and that the public purse is entitled to be reimbursed for the costs of police officers when they are deployed on Leeds United’s own land.
“West Yorkshire Police has already repaid the club £1,238,816 following the original judgment. The ruling today makes clear that the Force and the club should now work together to agree what, if anything, remains outstanding.
“We welcome the opportunity to now meet with the club, who have been refusing (on legal advice) to meet with us throughout the year pending the court hearing. We have recently met with Mr Cellino who has expressed his wish to resolve any disputes without constant recourse to lawyers and the courts.
“These meetings can now go ahead over the coming weeks and we hope to see a positive conclusion to this matter.”