There are exceptions to the rule, central to the British approach to law, that everyone is innocent until proved guilty.
Countless generations of children would tell you parents and teachers have not always observed the principle. Even in courts of law, there is one glaring anomaly: newspapers, magazines, TV etc have to prove their innocence if sued for libel.
Now there is another category of exceptions: supporters of Sunderland football club suspected of being involved in violence in Newcastle while returning from the pre-season friendly at Hearts. Season tickets have been suspended, individuals removed from the crowd having gained admission to a match.
It is a measure of the esteem in which Niall Quinn is held that many SAFC fans suggest that he did not even know what was being done in the club and therefore his name, but that it was the work of an over-zealous underling with scant appreciation of the fundamental principle of common law that he or she was flouting.
It is worse than that, as this e-mail, seen today, suggests:
“(It was on) Look North last night, so its profile is growing. The club are making it clear that it’s club policy, which they have followed before. We just haven’t heard about it because it will have been on a smaller scale (individual basis). They remove the season tickets/cards of anyone who is arrested for football-related violence. Whether they subsequently get charged or not doesn’t appear to matter. It’s a zero-tolerance approach.”
Salut! Sunderland is no friend of football louts and would support action by the club against individuals who admit or are properly convicted of offences of football-related violence. Until that point is reached, however, it is simply wrong by any standards of decency and fairness for such sanctions to be imposed.
Pages of signatures already appear at the site of the Football Supporters’ Federation. Mine does not, though it was added yesterday and I have received a confirmation e-mail stating that it has been verified. That appears to result from the FSF is having problems dealing with the volume of support its campaign is receiving.
But if you agree with what I have written, and what appears below, do not let the federation’s technical hitch get in the way of supporting this petition. Go now to the FSF site and add your voice.
For those with limited knowledge of what this is about, the London and SE branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association has given a helpful summary:
Members will be aware from the last edition of “Wear Down South” of the police action at Newcastle Central Station involving fans returning from the pre-season friendly at Hearts. Many fans have subsequently been questioned under arrest and in many cases had personal possessions removed from their homes. Only one has to date been charged -and that for drunkenness rather than as a result of the main inquiry which centred around violence against the police and others. All others under investigation are currently on bail and it is understood that many are about to receive letters advising there will be no further action against them.
Despite this current state of affairs, Sunderland Football Club has recently deactivated the season cards of some of those under investigation by the police. Others were evicted from the recent Carling Cup Tie against Aston Villa, despite providing no reason on that occasion for penalty.
The FSF petition’s aims are simple and unanswerable and Salut! Sunderland urges Niall Quinn to act immediately to put right a clear wrong:
* To respectfully request that Sunderland Association Football Club, through Chairman Niall Quinn, re-examines and repeals the club’s unfair policy on banning “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”.
* For Sunderland Football Club to reserve any action on implementing supporter bans until such a time that fans accused of football-related disorder have been given the opportunity to prove their innocence in a court of law through the fair and proper legal process.
* To establish the principle that football supporters, like other members of society, are innocent until proven guilty.
* For Niall Quinn, a man greatly respected in football for having the best interests of supporters at heart, to listen to Sunderland fans on this issue and take action to remedy the situation.
* To enforce point seven of SAFC’s own Terms and Conditions, issued with Season Cards, which states that only card holders “found guilty” of acting in a manner the Club considers detrimental to the Club’s interests “will have their season card confiscated and be banned from attending future games involving Sunderland AFC.”
* Given that regulation seven has been improperly applied, regulation eight (“No refunds will be issued for season cards under any circumstances”) should not be valid and all fans banned under this policy should be immediately refunded in full for any games missed.