Fan convicted for assaulting steward with inflatable shark

Grimsby Town 1388991

Grimsby Town fan Ken Meech was yesterday (13th July 2015) convicted of assaulting a football steward with an inflatable shark. Solicitor Melanie Cooke has worked with the FSF and represented hundreds of fans over the years and she instructed barrister Gethin Payne on Ken’s behalf. The FSF's Amanda Jacks was at Willesden Magistrates' Court to hear the case, she explains more below...

I spent all day yesterday in court with a Grimsby Town fan, Ken Meech (clean record, respected local business man) accused of common assault after hitting a steward over the head with an inflatable shark during wild, winning, goal celebrations in the dying minutes of the game.

He was found guilty after three magistrates decided the steward - who testified that he was terrified, that it was only his second football match, and also that at one point he left his body and looked down on himself as he was being “attacked” - and arresting police officer were more credible witnesses. Meech was given a 12 month conditional discharge, ordered to pay costs of £700, £100 compensation and a victim surcharge (effectively a tax) of £15. A Football Banning Order (FBO) Application presented by the prosecution was rejected by the Magistrates.

The trial was scheduled to start at 10.00am and listed for four hours. At 9.45am the Crown Prosecutor hadn't showed, so another was found and allocated the case. Once in court she had to ask for an adjournment to familiarise herself with details of the prosecution. She was granted 20 minutes and returned after half-an-hour.

Proceedings were then further delayed when the court was informed that the arresting officer had come to court with previously undisclosed CCTV evidence. This meant legal argument as to whether or not it could be shown and another adjournment while the magistrates decided. Eventually the court heard the case at 1.30pm and Magistrates returned with their verdict after 5.00pm.

While Ken was ordered to pay costs of £700, it is likely the cost to the taxpayer was more. Consider the cost of the arrest, processing and interviewing Ken at the police station plus the expense of having a police officer in court all day and her time spent securing the CCTV – which could not be used due to its last minute production.

Add to that the cost of Crown Prosecution Service staff in bringing the matter to court, the court itself and their associated costs, plus Ken’s own legal expenses. Was the prosecution was in the public interest? If the thousands of derisory comments made about the trial on social media are considered, you’d have to assume not. And all this at a time when the criminal justice system and the police are struggling to cope with Government cuts.

Based on the cases that come across my desk, such as the Leeds United fan charged with throwing a missile after throwing his fancy dress trousers in the air at Loftus Road, and others unsuccessfully prosecuted, there is strong evidence that supporters are being brought to court just because their alleged offences are football-related. I hear often fans are told just that at the police station. The evidence against them is often weak or based on the word of just one witness.

Last year I wrote about the case of, coincidentally, another Grimsby Town fan charged with an aggravated public order case and, with Euro 2016 on the horizon, I cannot see a reduction in such cases as banning orders will be sought to prevent disorder in France. Surely, particularly in times of austerity, there has to be an urgent debate around both the effectiveness of FBOs and whether bringing certain cases to court really is in the public interest?

Perhaps the most salutary lesson will be missed. The steward in Meech’s case testified that, at the time of the assault, he was behind a barrier and facing the pitch. When the crowd surged during their goal celebrations he was trapped behind scores of supporters.

Given it was only his second match and he was an older gentlemen, I genuinely sympathise with him as it could not have been a pleasant experience, but surely questions have to asked around his training? He was an agency steward and, had he been facing fans as surely he should have been, and told what to expect in the event of a last minute winner, he would have been far better positioned and prepared, so this entire sorry case could have been avoided.

Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF's ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via:

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.