LEEDS United have won their High Court action over who should pay for policing of matches at their Elland Road stadium.
The Championship side asked for a decision on which of the services deployed by West Yorkshire Police for the last three seasons were special police services, and whether it was entitled to be repaid for services wrongly categorised.
The litigation involved policing in the extended footprint of land around the stadium which is not owned or leased by the club - who claimed this fell within the scope of a constable’s normal common law obligations to maintain public order.
Mr Justice Eady, in London, said those services could not be classified as special police services and the club, whose home matches have one of the worst records of football-related violence in the country, should be repaid.
He concluded that the services rendered fell within the normal constabulary duty to keep the peace.
“More generally, it seems wrong to discount the majority of well-behaved fans who come to Elland Road, whether club supporters or visitors, all of whom retain their status as members of the public. In that capacity, they too are entitled to expect police protection.
“In any event, I consider that there would be insuperable difficulties in seeking to sub-divide people, in public highways and other spaces, when trying to assess to whose benefit such duties were carried out.
“They are intended to keep the Queen’s peace in the interests of the general public.”
Lawyers for West Yorkshire Police said the policing provided in the extended footprint was exclusively - or nearly exclusively - for the protection of those attending Leeds United’s matches and the benefit of the club, and not for the safety of the public at large.
They argued that the club’s claim was wrong in law, offended logic and was not supportable on the facts.
In his ruling, the judge said there was no single drain on West Yorkshire Police’s diminishing resources greater than that of policing the club’s matches and it was hardly surprising that it wished to recover as much as it reasonably could.
“During the season, home matches take place generally once a fortnight. One can only admire the stoicism of such officers who are required to carry out these stressful duties, not because of some genuine emergency, but simply as a matter of routine.”
He said he appreciated that his decision was unfortunate not only for West Yorkshire Police but also for the public purse.
If the Government should wish to extend the scope of special police services in such circumstances so as to ensure recoupment of police costs, legislation would be required.
He did not accept that his ruling would have the profound effect that police officers would not be able to charge for services rendered for cycle races on public roads or by escorting articulated lorries.
“The situations are not comparable. Police officers performing such duties are not there, normally, for the purpose of preventing public disorder or crimes of violence.”