| CJA and ticket touts
Soccer fans fall foul of law to beat ticket touts
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SCORES, posssibly hundreds, of normally law-abiding football fans involve themselves each weekend in a criminal act because a law aimed at ticket touts can trap ordinary supporters.
It is a familiar scene outside every football ground, or in nearby streets and bars. A supporter, let down by a friend who unexpectedly cannot attend a game, makes contact with someone looking for a spare ticket.
They complete their seemingly innocent transaction and proceed contentedly to the match. But in the eyes of the law, their exchange amounts to illegal touting. The offence is committed even if - as generally happens - the ticket has changed hands between followers of the same club and at face value.
But a Telegraph survey of police forces with Premiership clubs in their areas reveals stark differences in the way officers react. If a fan arriving at Southampton's ground, the Dell, tries to dispose of a ticket, police are unlikely to take action unless he offers it to a rival supporter.
However, someone attempting the same exercise outside the away end at Leeds or Bradford should expect to be arrested, thrown in the cells and charged. The buyer would have his money returned, and remain ticketless. Neither the Hampshire officer turning a blind eye, nor the West Yorkshire constable reaching for handcuffs, can be accused of acting improperly. The latter is observing the letter of the law; the former its spirit.
Under the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, now extended by the 1999 Football (Offences and Disorder) Act, the buyer is not liable to prosecution. But any fan selling or offering to sell, without authority, a ticket for a "designated football match" in any public place faces a fine of up to £5,000.
The law was introduced after the Taylor report into the Hillsborough disaster. Its aim was to crack down on touts, and keep opposing fans segregated. David Maclean, then a Home Office minister, indicated that the law was not intended to trap the fan seeking to get rid of an unwanted match ticket.
The Telegraph inquiries showed that while some police forces and individual officers fully endorse Mr Maclean's sentiments, others effectively reject them. Football liaison officers at two forces said "the law is an ass", blaming Parliament's failure to establish a clear distinction.
Ian Todd, chairman of the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs, which represents followers of about 80 teams, said: "We told the Government at the time that the way the law was framed was a nonsense." The federation supports the idea of "buy-back" schemes, not unlike those operated by theatres in London's West End, so that fans could dispose legally of surplus tickets.
Yesterday delegates from the federation and the Football Supporters' Association raised their concerns at a meeting with Tim Hollis, a South Yorkshire assistant chief constable who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on football policing issues.
Mr Todd said Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, would also be asked to give police forces guidance, reminding them of Mr Maclean's views. But the Home Office says that while it is "sympathetic" to the plight of the fan caught up by the Act, the specific exclusion of such cases would open loopholes for touts.
Mr Hollis said: "Ticket touts use runners to keep them supplied with tickets so if they get stopped, they'll have just two tickets in their possession and say they are an honest supporter trying to get rid of some tickets.
The police are in the invidious position of trying to enforce the law and inevitably, because you've got the discretion, there will be incidents where legitimate fans feel hard done by. There's no simple solution."
Article by By Colin Randall Daily Telegraph 1996
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