Four Everton fans are suing police after claiming they were “maliciously” prosecuted after crowd trouble broke out during a Premier League match.
Blues supporters, Christopher Dutton, 25, Alex Ramsden, 34, and twins Jamie and John Martin, 35, were sat close to a segregation barrier when tensions boiled over between rival fans at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium in October 2008.
They were variously arrested for alleged police obstruction, violent disorder, affray and being drunk in a football ground – but later cleared of all charges by magistrates.
They have now launched a bid for compensation from the Met police, insisting they were victims of false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution.
The force denies all those claims, saying there were reasonable grounds for arresting the men and enough evidence to charge them.
Opening the case for the Evertonians at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, Sarah Hemingway claimed they were subjected to “unreasonable force” and “fabricated and elaborated” evidence.
She said the four had travelled to the capital from Liverpool on an Everton club coach and enjoyed no more than three pints of lager each before the “low-risk” Premier League clash, which Arsenal won 3-1.
CCTV footage played to the court appeared to show cups and smaller items being lobbed by home supporters onto angry away fans in a lower tier of the 60,000 seater stadium’s Clock End.
Miss Hemingway said: “Everton fans in the away stand were subjected to unpleasant behaviour by Arsenal fans, particularly those in the stand above them.
“The unpleasant behaviour included objects being thrown and dropped upon them and also spitting.”
The barrister said trouble sparked after furious members of the Everton support moved towards a segregation barrier, which separated the fervent home and away supporters, and remonstrated with Arsenal stewards to act.
Everton’s Ayegbeni Yakubu (front) and Arsenal’s Mikael Silvestre in action in 2008
Amid troubled scenes, police were called in and the twins, Mr Ramsden and Mr Dutton, who were sat beside the barrier, were hauled over it and arrested, Miss Hemingway told the jury.
“They will say that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time in a situation that was created by poor stewarding and poor policing,” she added.
The barrister said Jamie Martin, of Tyne Close, Kirkdale, was trying to push other Everton fans back when police dragged him over the barrier and arrested him.
His twin brother, of Ennerdale Drive, Netherton, “was struck several times by a police baton”, including a blow to his head, before he was also detained, Miss Hemingway added.
Mr Ramsden, of Oxford House, Bootle, was among a group of Toffees when he too was dragged over the barrier, while Christopher Dutton, of Downing Road, Bootle, was hit on the thumb with a baton, then taken into custody, she said.
The four men were each taken to Holloway Police Station and held for between three and five hours before they were bailed.
John Martin was later charged with affray and being drunk in a designated football ground.
Jamie Martin was charged with violent disorder; Mr Ramsden was charged with affray and being drunk in a stadium, while Mr Dutton was accused of one count of obstructing police.
But they were each cleared of all charges after a trial in November 2009.
Miss Hemingway argued that the police employed “excessive and injustified force” in detaining the men and insisted their case should never have got to the criminal court.
“We say it was not reasonable to have prosecuted them for these offences in the first place, in light of the evidence against them,” she said.
“The charges have been, we say, fabricated and elaborated in police witness statements that appear to state that the claimants were drunk, aggressive or violent – so much so that this amounted to criminal offences.”
From the witness box, Mr Dutton, who was attending his first away match in London on the day, said of the criminal trial: “It just felt pointless. I shouldn’t have had any charges against me.”
He said the hearing had left him feeling “down” and observed of the evidence against him: “It just did not seem to add up.”
Mr Dutton said there had been “banter” between rival fans in the first half but tensions ramped up after the break, when “cups, drink cans and bottles” were being thrown by Arsenal supporters above block 23.
“There were people complaining to the stewards [that] there was spitting and coins”, Mr Dutton said, branding the behaviour by gunners supporters “unacceptable”.
But when Everton fans complained to stewards along the segregation barrier where Mr Dutton was sat, they were told “to go back to their seats”, he told the jury.
Mr Dutton said he was trying to stop Jamie Martin from being pulled over the barrier by stewards – “defending and protecting him” – but he had no idea police were present until officers hauled him into the gangway.
“I seen the police and they were just throwing batons,” he explained, “they were just striking the batons on people and they just seemed to be random strikes.”
He said he was left “in pain and shocked” when an officer’s baton whacked his thumb.
Paul Stagg, for the Met, played the court a 45-minute CCTV excerpt from cameras inside the Emirates which showed the escalating tensions between the two sets of fans, stewards and police in the lead up to the incident.
He will argue that officers used completely reasonable force, had grounds both to arrest and charge the four Toffees and supplied entirely proper evidence against them, notwithstanding their subsequent acquittals.
If the Everton fans are successful in their claim, the jury will then be asked to decide the amount of damages they are due.
The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, continues tomorrow.
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