Football may get too costly to police, force says

Police at a Millwall match at the Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield, in 2010
Police at a Millwall match at the Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield, in 2010
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THE future of some of the country’s biggest football matches could be in doubt if clubs are allowed to cut what they pay to police them, a senior officer has warned.

In a landmark legal case likely to have wide-ranging implications, West Yorkshire Police are appealing against a High Court ruling which said Leeds United did not have to pay for policing fans away from the immediate footprint of their Elland Road stadium.

The case, due to be heard at the Court of Appeal next month, is being closely monitored by other forces and a number of sporting venues and organisations.

A senior officer has revealed, however, that should the appeal fail, the force – which is shedding jobs amid budget cuts of 20 per cent – may soon be unable to afford, or justify, policing high profile matches at all. For a club like Leeds, which has one of the worst hooligan problems, it is difficult to see how matches could proceed without police support.

The officer said: “I can conceive that providing 400 officers to an event might not be acceptable if you are paying for all of them when a commercial organisation is making a huge profit out of it. The bottom line is whether we provide policing at all.

“The next couple of years will be the most painful.” He said there would be fewer officers on the streets of West Yorkshire “and providing 300 officers now will be easier than providing 300 officers in two years”.

“If we can’t charge for them, why should we take your police officer off your street to pay for Leeds United? How long can the public subsidise football? ”

It can also be revealed that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is among those who may look to cut their policing bill in light of the case. “It’s something we would prefer not to pay if we don’t have to,” spokesman David Ryder said.

West Yorkshire Police Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “I fully support the force’s position on this. I don’t think it is fair on the communities and people across West Yorkshire that sports clubs or other organisations can expect significant numbers of police resources to be made available to support events without them making a proportionate contribution to the costs, especially when officers are abstracted from their normal work in other neighbourhoods to do so.”

Leeds United chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “It would be wrong to speculate on any potential consequences for football at Elland Road in the event that the appeal brought by the police fails, in advance of the hearing. We continue to pay for police on duty on land owned or controlled by the club, as we have always done.”