A catch up with Our friends at West Midlands Police Force Football Unit

So tell us about the unit and what you do !

On the unit there is an Inspector , a Sergeant, 6 PC’s all with responsibility for one club (I have two looking after Solihull Moors as well) who are known as dedicated football officers – the new term for football intelligence officers. We also have one detective constable who deals with all post-match investigations and we have recently recruited PC Stuart Ward to the team who is the first dedicated hate crime officer for football in the country.

Hate Crime is any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards a person based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity.

Over recent months there has been a number of very high profile hate crime incidents on social media platforms, these include the racist abuse aimed towards Wilfred Zaha and more recently the online racist abuse aimed towards West Brom player Romaine Sawyers, it is now sadly a weekly occurrence to see footballers being targeted online and subject to vile racial abuse. Stu is dealing with all incidents of hate crime surrounding football, currently with their being no fans in the ground all incidents involve players, however, once fans return he will also pick up any investigations which involve supporters which take place inside the stadium. We take all incidents of hate crime very seriously.

So what’s been happening during lockdown?

It is quite clear that the large social media providers need to do some very urgent work to assist in combatting this constant racial abuse, it is far too easy to set up anonymous accounts which allows complete anonymity for the offender, there also needs to be much more help for police forces all around the country to help in identifying these people.

Since Stu started it has been noted that a number of the offenders who are posting the abuse are from overseas, we have had checks come back to the unit showing the offender in countries situated many thousands of miles away from the UK. Even on a local scale we often see the offenders are from all over the country and just because a West Midlands player is being targeted it does not mean the offender is based within the West Midlands.

Just a couple of weeks ago a male, aged 49 was charged with racially abusing Romaine Sawyers, we now await a court hearing to see what happens – it must be stressed that for any offence, sentencing is totally out of the hands of the police and any sentencing is down to the Magistrates or Judge in court. The most common offence people are charged with is Malicious Communications 1988. To note you cannot receive a football banning order for any offence under the Malicious Communications Act as it is not a schedule one offence under the Football Spectators Act of 1989.

What other concerns are there ?

Malicious Communications is where someone sends a letter or any other form of communication that is indecent or grossly offensive, threatening, or contains information which is false or believed to be false. The purpose for sending it is to cause distress or anxiety to the person it is sent to.

What else are you running ?

We continue to run both the Yellow Card project and the Onside Project – these are educational programmes with the aim of diverting people away from re-offending at or in connection with football matches. The Yellow Card project is for adults and the Onside Project is for juveniles, we have run these very successfully over the last 3 years. Those attending receive inputs on alcohol and drug misuse, football legislation including pyrotechnics and football banning orders, the carrying of weapons, life choices and hate crime to name but a few. For the juvenile course we have had over 50 people attend, just one of those has re-offended. The adult course has seen over 30 people attend and not one of those people has come to the attention of the football unit again. The aim is to keep people out of the criminal justice system and to provide them with education to help them in all walks of life.

We work closely with Kick It Out, The Football Supporters Association and drug and alcohol awareness groups and the regions football clubs who attend these programmes and provide inputs to those attending. We were the first unit and force in the country to provide such courses.

The projects have been a huge success.

If anyone would like to contact us to discuss anything we do then we can be via the following methods – Twitter –  @wmpbcfc is the twitter account run by Colin or direct to Stu who supports Colin on @stuartwardwmp.  You can also see the whole units Twitter page on @footballunitwmp. 

Finally the team have a dedicated email account – os_force_football@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk

It must be noted that the Twitter and email account are not monitored 24/7 and should not be used to report crime/hate crime.  If you witness an offence or wish to report anything then please contact WMP by calling 101

Thanks to Colin and the team for the update and a massive thank you to all at WMP during the pandemic you have all been true hero’s from all at Tilton Talk Show and it’s listeners

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