Last year, I wrote a brief piece about how Sussex Police appeared to have changed their attitude towards the prosecution of homophobic offences at The Amex. It appears now, after the Brentford game on 17 January 2015, that perhaps that has changed again.
An Albion supporter in the South-West Stand was aware of repeated homophobic gestures made at the Brighton fans and had the presence of mind to not just notify the stewards, but to take photos and (according to their messages on Twitter) video of the event. They also commented that there were children in the area witnessing the abuse.
The two photos posted on Twitter are reproduced here:
According to the Twitter feed of the Albion's link officer to Sussex Police, the individual concerned was interviewed and 'dealt with' in custody. I queried what 'dealt with' meant and then reminded myself what the current Police, Crown Prosecution Service and FA standards are in this area.
The first document I found was from the Crown Prosecution Service, and was issued in conjunction with the Police, the FA, Stonewall, and 'Kick It Out'.
It clearly states: "there is no room in the eyes of the law for racist or homophobic abuse on the pitch or in the stands."
The second document I went to was the 'Prosecution Policy for Football Related Offences', again issued by the Crown Prosecution Service.
This document clearly states: "there will be a presumption of prosecution whenever there is sufficient evidence to bring offenders before a court on appropriate criminal charges," and: "where the line between humour and offensive behaviour is crossed then positive action will be taken."
I was therefore surprised to find that despite the clear evidence to prove what had happened, and despite the policy changes and messages of robust action, 'dealt with' meant that the outcome of this individual's 'banter' was a Section 5 Public Order Fixed Penalty Fine (usually a £60-90 fine). This was, according to Sussex Police, considered the most appropriate punishment based upon the individual's criminal history (NFD) and whether they admitted the offence (NFD).
The guidance on Section 5 offences - claims that these penalties are to be used when 'low-level, anti-social and nuisance offending' has occurred. It is also used at the discretion of a constable, and does not require a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, thereby rendering the CPS entirely ignorant of what has taken place, and unable to use their own policy to prosecute homophobic abuse, as per the terms of their own agreement with the Police.
In other words, Sussex Police exercised their discretion and decided that this offence wasn't serious enough to notify the CPS so as to allow them to consider whether they should prosecute the offender, and presumably without any reference to those who felt so offended as to report the event in the first place, exactly as Kick It Out and Football v Homophobia are encouraging us to do.
The battle to remove racism has come a long way and if the Brentford supporter had been using racially offensive language, would Sussex Police have used the same discretion? I don't know, but I doubt it.
If Sussex Police continue to exercise their own judgement in NOT referring homophobia to the Crown Prosecution Service, then the assumptions about the attitudes held by the decision-makers in Sussex Police will start to become uncomfortable."
Thanks to Dan Aitch again for this insightful article.