Click here and you will quickly see what you are invited to sign. Most of us pay lip service to notions of justice. In practice, we repeatedly encounter anomalies …
Niall Quinn stands convicted on one count – not knowing the difference between refute and deny – but is absolutely right to put out a dignified club statement* emphasising that Titus Bramble, arrested on suspicion of rape, maintains his innocence.
Niall was also wise enough to the potential charge of hypocrisy to avoid adding that whenever an individual is charged with a crime in the UK, and indeed his own native Irish Republic, there is – notionally at least – a presumption of innocence. It is nevertheless worth pointing it out: Bramble has not even been charged; if and when that occurs, he must be seen as innocent until and unless found guilty.
The tricky ground for the club in composing its statement on the Bramble arrest is that it has not properly answered the charge of acting in breach of that presumption of innocence in its handling of the case of the Sunderland supporters suspected of committing public disorder offences at Newcastle Central Station after a pre-season game at Hearts in Aug 2009.
Let me remind you, with thanks to the Football Supporters’ Federation, an entirely decent representative body with commendable respect for the role of the apostrophe, of the details:
On Saturday August 8th a group of approximately 40 Sunderland fans arrived at Newcastle’s Central Station following their team’s pre-season friendly with Heart of Midlothian. Four fans were hospitalised with serious injuries caused by police dogs and batons.
We believe Northumbria Police over-reacted. Supporters have been injured when not posing a threat to themselves, others or the police.
The police have labelled many fans as thugs and hooligans intent on meeting for pre-arranged violence in Newcastle.
This is despite the fact that a Tannoy announcement at Hearts told them the train was going direct to Sunderland!
The police’s PR campaign distorted the facts via selectively edited CCTV footage released to the local media. Fans present have repeatedly requested that ALL footage be released. The police have refused to do so.
The eye-witness accounts we have received directly contradict the police’s story – it is not often we get so many fans all independently telling the same story – the police accusations just don’t add up.
Now I am not sure at what point a professional footballer acquires more rights than the people who pay money to see them ply their trade.
But no one from Sunderland AFC has satisfactorily explained, unless I have missed it, how banning fans on mere suspicion fits with the “innocent until proven guilty” principle.
If the federation right, that may be a cause for little surprise since the club’s own rules are contradictory.
The FSF quotes SAFC policy as providing for a ban on “any supporter who has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in football related disorder, either at, on the way to or returning from any fixture involving SAFC”.
Inconveniently, the terms and conditions of season ticket sales stipulate that card holders “found guilty” of acting in a manner the club considers detrimental to its interests “will have their season card confiscated and be banned from attending future games involving Sunderland AFC”. Perhaps there is also some confusion between “suspicion” and ” found guilty”.
This week 15 Newcastle fans admitted their parts in violence on the same pre-season day in Aug 2009 in incidents which, I read the reports correctly, were separate from those involving the Sunderland supporters. I trust NUFC will deal with them accordingly. If they had been Sunderland fans pleading guilty to participation in violent conduct, I would have been among the first to support any sanction, beyond whatever the court decides, SAFC felt appropriate.
This is not a dispute on whether to come down hard on football yobs – whoever they purport to follow – but an issue of natural justice. There is not the slightest intention to challenge the decency of Niall Quinn and others at SAFC who may well be acutely embarrassed at the obvious conflict between striving, rightly, to uphold the good name of the club and applying ordinary principles of fairness and common law.
Salut! Sunderland unreservedly accepts:
* the undiluted innocent-until-proven-guilty status of Titus Bramble, and supporters accused of football disorder
* the logical implications – legal, and related solely to Sunderland AFC – of any conviction (or, in the case of the supporters still awaiting trial, a proven breach of rules even if it falls short of evidence justifying a criminal conviction)
What we do not support is taking pre-emptive action on allegations that remain to be proved, have been strongly contested (not refuted: that is the court’s job) and emanate from a source – Northumbria Polcie – whose own conduct is open to question.
There may be a contrary view that deserves to be aired. The pages of Salut! Sunderland are open ….
* Niall’s statement read: “This has been a very difficult day for everyone at the football club, no one more so than Titus, who categorically refutes the allegations that have been made against him. He strenuously denies any wrong-doing and will be doing everything within his power to clear his name. I, as chairman and the club as a whole, totally support Titus in his efforts and we all hope for a swift conclusion to this matter.”