Niall Quinn, Titus Bramble and presumptions of innocence

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.”

Colin Randall

6 thoughts on “Niall Quinn, Titus Bramble and presumptions of innocence”

  1. Being of venerable years, listening to the stories of predatory women and footballers and even by their own admission sailors indulging in group sex did not exactly make my hair stand on end. It did however leave me saddened at the depths of depravity which appears to have become the norm, particularly amongst the over paid feckless multi millionaires that grace our football pitches golf courses and X factor style stages.

    Drunken women to the point of being legless, vying with each other to attract a score are having fun. In their bravado some claim to be willing to take on the entire football team albeit perhaps three at a time.

    They make assignations and return to hotel bedrooms later to avoid the press so we should not and indeed they amongst the Innocent of them

  2. You’d probably expect me, as a reporter, to be all in favour of disclosure.I do think justice should rarely be anonymous.
    But I agree with Malcolm. Rape is seen as one of those rare exceptions and if it is right that the woman is assured of anonymity, that protection should extend to the suspect unless and until he is convicted.

    There’d still be the problem that he might later clear his name, at one of his subsequent opportunities to appeal, and I would be against prolonging his right to anonymity beyond actual conviction. But at least it would inject a bit of fairness into the process.

  3. I am very much in favour in doing everything possible to ensure that victims of rape are not discouraged from reporting the crime and that their accusations are treated seriously, sympathetically and diligently by the police. To that end I support the principle that those reporting the crime have the guarantee of anonimity.

    But can someone please tell me why it is deemed acceptable to report the names of people alleged to have committed the offence in the press, even before charges have been brought, never mind a guilty verdict being the outcome? This is not a flippant comment nor one made because in this instance it involves a Sunderland player. I honestly don’t understand why.

    You may remember a few years back that Coronation Street /Red Dwarf actor/poet/Radio 2/Robot Wars presenter/ex Tranmere Rovers footballer Craig Charles was reported to have been arrested in similar circumstances. He spent time in prison on remand and was attacked by another inmate before being acquitted. Despite the fact that it was determined by the courts that he had been the victim of false accusations, he still has to bear the stigma as a result of his name being publicised.

    It seems wrong to me that certain international footballers are granted injunctions preventing the media publicising their antics whilst those accused of such a serious crime can have their names published even before a proper investigation has taken place.

  4. It is quite improper for the police to withhold any evidence, from the accused, that is in their possession. Many cases have been subsequently thrown out and cases for damages instigate when evidence in police possession is withheld and later comes to light showing the force knew a suspect was innocent.

    Justice has to be seen to be done and for Northumbria police to refuse to release tapes of the accused lays in question all the evidence that they seek to present before the court.

    This of course would not be the first time that police have sought to cover up the truth to protect one of their own. Only recently a female officer had to give evidence about a violent assault on a female held in the cells. Now that took great courage because some of the male officers were purported to be covering the situation up. Those that are whistle blowers are invariably not trusted by their colleagues thereafter.

    There are bad pennies in the police as anywhere and as those on my board know I am a staunch supporter of law enforcement but something is at odds with the supposed offences put before us by the press telling the story presented by the police. It is unheard of for so many supporters to refute the accusations and condemn the police’s behaviour particularly when the only reason that they had caught that train was they understood that it was going to Sunderland. A premeditated gang fight doesn’t work that way.

    The death of an innocent man, as a result of police violence, in the City of London, where for some astonishing reason some officers failed to wear their identification tags, undermines even more the public’s respect for the police and our faith in law and order.

    To win back public trust the Home Office has to ensure that our police forces are meticulous in compiling evidence when seeking to criminalise members of the public. It does them no credit if doubts remain as to the veracity of police evidence.

    The Home secretary should be called upon to ensure that all video evidence of the incident is made available and if not the CPS should raise doubts as to the safeness of a prosecution.

  5. Usual health warning:

    All comments welcome but Salut! Sunderland has become such favoured prey of the international spam vermin – take your pick: Viagra, quack health cures, dodgy loans, escort girls, garden fences, wrestling, weight loss – that people commenting for the first time will experience a short delay for moderation.

    And it goes without saying that the matter under discussion lies within delicate legal territory which obliges special caution.

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