Chelsea Fan? Did you go to PSGvCFC in feb 2015. You may be on video..

Were you in Paris in February 2015 for the PSG v Chelsea FC match?
Did you drink in Belushi’s (St Christopher’s Inn) before the match?
Were you part of the group walking to the Metro at Gare de Nord to catch the Metro to the Stadium?
Were you on the Metro train on which the incident too place?

Over the past two days the Metropolitan Police Service’s application for a football banning order against four Chelsea fans, following an incident in Paris in February 2015, has been heard in court. The judge has reserved judgment on the applications, and I do not intend, at this stage, to comment on the application or the incident in Paris.

This application has drawn media attention from around the World, and the press have made an application for all video footage shown during this case to be disclosed. The judge has said that he will make a decision next week on whether this video should be disclosed. I am pre-empting that decision incase the judge does decide to permit the press to have a copy of the video. Following a case in 2013 (which was not football related) the courts are expected to make available, to the press, copies of evidence aired in court unless there are good arguments against it.

The video has already been described by the press reporting during the two day hearing and it is clear that there are many Chelsea fans recorded on the video, their faces are clearly seen, and they will be identifiable by people who know these fans. Although the Metropolitan Police Service has not suggested that all those fans on the video are behaving disorderly, the press have already reported the fact that the Metropolitan Police Service has made much of the fact that fans did not disassociate themselves from the group, and that this was a large, intimidating group of Chelsea fans made up almost entirely of risk supporters.

I have concerns that if the video is released to the press, many Chelsea fans on the video may find that they are the subject of press scrutiny, or may find that their employers, family or friends question their involvement. Many fans may not even know that they are considered risk supporters by the police. With this in mind, I ask that Chelsea fans seriously consider any comments they make on social media over the next few days, particularly on open accounts which are easily identifiable, and which the press and employers can easily check. A comment or photo on social media can easily be misinterpreted or twisted, as was seen in some of the press reporting immediately following the incident in Paris.

If the video is disclosed, and any Chelsea fans have concerns about the fact they are identifiable on the video, please contact myself (@gurdena on Twitter; gurdena@btinternet.com) or Melanie Cooke (@cookemelanie on Twitter)

Believe the Fat Cat Lawyer spin if you want, but this is the alternative version of why Criminal lawyers are fighting for Legal Aid

Yesterday I threatened to handcuff myself to a bench in the Magistrates Court until my case was dealt with. Its the second time in the last few months that I have done so. It sounds dramatic, but drastic times call for drastic measures. I actually meant it, and I assume on both occasions I have given the impression that I meant it as the court then found a way to deal with my case!

The courts, Crown Prosecution Service, Police, Probation and defence are all at breaking point, but that does not justify the attitude that I am seeing all too much these days. The ‘well that’s the way it is’ attitude when I complain about the fact that a client who is a youth has been in custody for 5 months and the CPS still haven’t prepared the charges, or a client with mental health issues (who the court insisted entered a plea on the first occasion) has had his trial adjourned three times, or a young mother (at risk of losing her children, job and home if she goes to prison) has attended court five times waiting for papers on her case only to find that the police recommended that the case be discontinued four months ago.

Last night someone described me as a ‘bully lawyer’, that may be so, but I also like to think that I care. I appreciate the “well that’s just the way it is” damage that is done to my clients and their families with the constant delays. I appreciate how it feels to be treated by the criminal justice system as though you don’t exist, whether you are a defendant, witness or victim.

When the legal aid cuts were first mooted, I wrote a piece about the fact I felt very uncomfortable with striking as I did not want to leave a client facing court without representation. However, I have changed my mind. The damage I imagined would be done by the Ministry of Justice legal aid cuts is actually much worse. The latest announcement of another 8.75% cuts to legal aid rates, giving firms only 3 weeks notice of the cuts, will mean that if the criminal legal profession does not act now, there will be no criminal legal profession in 4 years time, and then every defendant who cannot afford a private lawyer will be facing court without representation.

Obviously the Government spin goes into overdrive as soon as any legal aid cuts are mentioned. The latest cuts announcement was accompanied by media reports about hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money being spent on trials, with the articles cleverly worded to make it seem as though that was all defence fees, when in fact it was the whole trial cost, so included the Prosecution costs, jury costs, court costs and defence fees. But that wouldn’t make such a good defence lawyer bashing headline so why ruin a good story with the truth.

If I had £1 for every time someone has said to me recently “well you will just have to find another type of law to practice” I could handsomely supplement the legal aid cuts. But the reality is that I don’t want to do anything else, and if all criminal lawyers take that advice, there will be no justice. It’s not just about justice for the defendant. What about the victims and witnesses who, if there are no criminal lawyers, will be questioned in court by the person that have accused of committing a crime. What about the jury who will have the very unenviable task of having to determine a person’s guilt or innocence based on the case run by the defendant, with all the confusions and emotions of the defendant thrown into the mix. What about the defendant with mental health problems or youth who are expected to be able to understand the case papers and chase the Crown Prosecution Service for the missing papers. Who is going to raise the valid legal arguments which may make or break a case?

The Ministry of Justice will have you believe that the wealthy defendants will still be represented by good lawyers as they will pay privately, and that all others can be picked up by the pro bono system. This is utter nonsense and just shows how out of touch the Ministry of Justice is with the current criminal justice system. All of the points I have raised above still apply.

*Does that mean that a victim of a violent assault and robbery has to hope the person charged with attacking them is wealthy as that way a lawyer will cross examine them in court. Perhaps we need to have stickers made for our clothing, ‘Please only assault and rob me if you are wealthy’!

*Jurors will have to hope that their defendant can afford a lawyer as that way they will only have to take the obligatory 2 weeks off of work for jury service, but if they are unlucky enough to get an indigent defendant case, they may be looking at four weeks off of work due to the extra time it takes for an unrepresented defendant to deliver his or her case.

*The recently qualified lawyer who works in Mergers and Acquisitions, who works 60 hours a week, and whose employer doesn’t allow them to turn their work phone off, and who has been given the case of a person with mental health difficulties as part of the pro bono package isn’t going to sit in an interview room in Hull with the client for hours trying to get instructions, while at the same time trying to stop them from self harming while sitting at the table. “Oh sorry love, I know you are going to try and cut yourself with that pen as soon as I leave the room, but I really need to take this call from Hong Kong.”

Yes, as defence lawyers we have a bad rep, we are known as Fat Cats, we often don’t help ourselves by appearing in public wearing wigs and gowns – thinking we are making ourselves identifiable, but in reality coming across as totally detached from normal life. But most of the lawyers I deal with day after day are not like that. I spend my time with the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, confused, and scared. I don’t walk around with designer handbags and spend my time at garden parties, but I do..

*answer my phone at 3am to a scared client and receive no money for it;

*work all night to try and ensure that the legal argument the judge has demanded is in front of him at 9am despite the fact I won’t get paid for that work as it is classed as part of case preparation;

*regularly interrupt a family dinner to take a call from a junior colleague in the police station asking advice about a client they are representing. That is a call I don’t get paid for;

*travel 10 hours round trip to visit a client in prison on remand. I get a low fixed fee for the prison visit so long as I can prove it was ‘essential’ (and the Legal Aid Authority puts a lot of hard work into trying to say that I made a 10 hour trip to sit in a tiny room with a client for the fun of it). But I don’t get paid for the 6 hours travel time or the 1 hour waiting to get into the prison. If the prison is out in The Sticks I have to get a taxi from the station, usually at a vastly inflated rate as the taxi firms know there is no other way to get to the prison, and I then have to wait months for my travel expenses (in excess of £100 per trip) to be paid back to me.

*get up at 4:30 and travel half way across the country to get to an obscure court for 9am, only to be told that the case is being adjourned because witnesses have not been warned for the trial. For that wasted day I will receive my travel expenses only;

*sit in a small room with some thoroughly unpleasant clients persuading them that they should plead guilty so that the young victim does not have to face the fear of coming to court;

*have to view nasty photos and watch hours of footage of crimes and witness accounts which would most definitely come with a warning if they were in a fictional film. I can’t talk about this to this anyone, and get no offer of help from the Ministry of Justice to deal with this;

*occasionally find I am on the receiving end of verbal abuse by victims and their families due to the fact I am representing a certain client. I never make a complaint about this, I just get on with the job;

*have to protect my family from repercussions from the media and public for some of the clients I represent. I never make a complaint about this, I just get on with the job.

I’m not special, I’m just a criminal lawyer, trying to keep this profession alive, to encourage the junior lawyers to stay in the criminal system. It is about justice, but with that does flow the fact that even criminal lawyers have to make enough to pay their rent, and if the Government’s current reductions mean that those lawyers won’t be able to pay their rent they will go elsewhere and find work that does pay their rent, which brings me back to the justice issue again..

My Response to an MP’s request for Pro Bono Assistance for their Constituent…

Yesterday I sent out a tweet encouraging lawyers who receive letters from MPs asking for pro bono assistance for their constituents to refuse the work and remind the MPs of the reason for the increase in constituents having to approach their MPs for assistance. It seems I hit a nerve as I became a ‘Top Tweeter’ for the day…I’m sure the invite to the award ceremony and the plaque (or should I say plague) will follow in due course!

There has recently been media suggestion that MPs offices are at breaking point with the increase of constituents asking for legal assistance. Those of us who have worked in social justice for many years are aware of the cuts which have been made to legal funding over the past 10 years, but that since the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force the system has been at breaking point. Families facing eviction from their homes, workers being paid less than the minimum wage and who wish to bring a claim in the employment tribunal, mothers and fathers fighting for access to their children, are just a few examples of those who are now having to try and negotiate the complex court systems themselves or try and find a law centre where the doors are still open.

My recent experience of cases which I have undertaken pro bono, and which previously had MP involvement is that the claimant has suffered at the hands of an unqualified inexperienced MP or their assistant, such as a constituent providing a copy of the legal advice they had received pro bono to their MP, only to find that the MP sent a letter to the organisation the constituent wished to bring a claim against, and included the legally privileged advice! Other examples are poor advice on the deadlines for submitting a claim so that by the time the constituent submitted the claim form, their claim was out of time, or advice to claim against the wrong person resulting in high wasted costs to the constituent. My general experience of dealing with the MP’s offices are that they are rude, demanding, and have no appreciation for the fact that I also have other clients and that the time I use to undertake pro bono work is actually precious as I try to use it to help as many people as possible, and not to repeatedly send responses to the MP to massage his or her ego.

Hence, I made the decision a while ago that I would not undertake pro bono work for anyone referred from an MP’s office and instead I send back this standard letter. I am happy for anyone reading this to copy this letter and use it.


Rt Hon…..

I acknowledge receipt of your unsolicited letter requesting pro bono assistance for a member of your constituency.

Unfortunately, as I am sure you are aware, both the criminal justice system and the social justice system has suffered scathing legal aid cuts, and in my experience both are at breaking point and only being held together by the goodwill of lawyers and legal caseworkers who undertake pro bono work.

It is a sad reflection on both the Government and the Shadow Government that the invaluable Law Centres and legal centres have seen their funding cut to such a level that, for those which have not been forced to close, they are now unable to assist anywhere near the number of clients who are approaching them for help.

I undertake a very high amount of pro bono work, but have made the decision to support the law centres/advice clinics, Bar Pro Bono Unit, FRU and other charities I endorse, as I consider these to be the most needy, and without the back office support that the privilege of being a Member of Parliament brings.

Hence, I will not be able to assist your constituent in a pro bono capacity. Can I suggest that to best serve your constituents with their legal queries, you make efforts to try and rectify some of the damage that has been done to the social justice system over the past 4 years, afterall it is the power that as a Member of Parliament, you hold in your hands, and a power that us lawyers who are at the coalface cannot wield.

Yours sincerely ”

June 2015 Travel Restrictions on Anyone on Football Banning Order and the Power Struggle of the UK Football Policing Unit

Once again, its coming up to time when football fans in England who are on a football banning order are placed under a restriction of their liberty for no other reason than the National team are playing overseas.

There are two matches coming up, the Ireland v England friendly match on 7th June 2015 and the Euro 2016 qualifier Slovenia v England on 14th June 2015. What this means for fans on a football banning order is that they have to hand in their passports to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015, and also have to report to their designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June 2015. Just when that reporting period ends, the next one starts. Fans have to hand in their passports to the police on 9th or 10th June and they can’t be collected until after the match on 14th June 2015.

For many fans, unless they have plans to travel between the 2nd and 15th June 2015, it is probably an easier deal to just leave their passports at the police station until after the 15th June. However, this is a huge restriction on their liberty.

An even bigger restriction on a fan’s personal life and freedom of movement is the reporting restriction on 7th June 2015. The reason the UK Football Policing Unit has put these restrictions in place is because it is possible to travel to Ireland on a driving licence, and the legislation does not permit the UKFPU to require a fan to hand in their driving licence. But let’s face it, fans who are on the police radar will be spotted at the airport or port anyway as they are well known to the football officers, who will be loitering around at all major airports and ferry terminals.

It is questionable whether this isn’t just the UK Football Policing Unit asserting its authority. An authority which has always kept itself below the radar. As a lawyer dealing with football fan cases, it has become increasingly difficult to deal with the UKFPU. It will not engage in communications about fans’ bans, and rarely responds to queries. So why has it suddenly decided to poke its head above the parapet. Call me a cynic but suddenly articles written by the UKFPU are being published in the media, and the newspapers are being fed stories which are are being printed to try and persuade the public that football hooliganism is on the increase and that if we are not careful it will go back to the ‘Dark Days’. This is nothing more than UKFPU spin, the Home Office statistics for the past few years have shown that incidents of football violence are low, compare that to incidents of violence on a Friday and Saturday night in the town centers around England.

It’s a shame that the UKFPU doesn’t think about the impact its reporting restrictions are having on those fans who work on Sundays, who usually take their kids swimming on Sunday morning, or who had plans to take the family away for the weekend. And the reality is that, in certain areas of the country a fan can sign on just after 10am and still catch a flight to Dublin in time for kick off, or shortly after. This reporting restriction will achieve nothing in relation to those fans (if there are indeed any) who are determined to go to Ireland and cause trouble, but will no doubt give the UKFPU some extra brownie points when it is applying to the Government for its next round of funding so that its staff can travel around the World promoting the UKFPU. Why let the right of movement of hardworking fans get in the way of that?

————–
Just to clarify, if you are on a football banning order, you must hand in your passport to the police on 2nd or 3rd June 2015 and report to your designated police station between 10am and 1pm on 7th June. You can collect your passport on 8th June 2015, but you must hand it in on the 9th or 10th June 2015 for the next control period, and cannot collect until 15th June 2015.
If you do not see the football officer when you hand in your passport or you report, always make sure you get a receipt to say that you have attended, even if it is just a handwritten note signed by the officer you have spoken to, and the time and date.

_______________

Hitting the Real Life Murder Scene & Trying to Keep the Client From Death Row

My mum had high hopes for me as a lawyer, but it turns out, I only like the dirty gritty edgy stuff that brings me into contact with the worse crimes that you can imagine. The kid found in a suitcase in the canal, the torture of a gang member and anyone who just happened to be a member of their family, the tourist abducted from the beach during a night time stroll and buried alive. Yet I also see those who are accused of the crimes, the lives they have lived, and still live, and I also have at the forefront of my mind the fact that they might, just might, be innocent. I’m a defense lawyer trying to keep those charged with the most heinous crimes from Death Row.

Standing in a street which was the scene of a drive by shooting two days earlier, I count the number of bullet holes in the building opposite, and then notice that the cars in the neighboring yards are also riddled with bullet holes and that the 2 inch thick metal fence posts didn’t fare a lot better. Meanwhile cars with blackened windows cruise past very slowly, and I’m conscious that if the window rolls down and there is an automatic weapon on the other side, those holes aren’t just going to be in a fence post and house brick.

So why am I here? It’s a crime scene and my client is charged with murder, it’s as simple as that. I want to look at the crime scene, get a feel for it myself, speak to the neighbors – if any will speak to me – I’m a middle aged white woman in a predominantly black poor neighborhood. Some call it the ghetto, but its not, there are good, hard working decent people living here, they would like to move but are unable to, they are in hock to the bank for their houses and no one is going to buy a house from them with the added selling pitch of MP5 bullet holes. Instead they have to hope that their son coming home from school at 5pm isn’t the next innocent victim of gang turf wars that have spilled over to these streets in recent years.

I don’t have the back up that the cops have when they visit these areas, I don’t have a firearm, or a radio to call for back up. To advertise the fact that I’m not a cop, I often show a lot more flesh than I usually think appropriate for a defense lawyer at work, tight cropped jeans so that its clear I don’t have a firearm strapped to my legs, bare hips and small of my back, showing there is nothing concealed in my waistband, and a Public Defender tag around my neck. It’s as good as a sign on my head “Yes I know I’m way out of my depth on these streets but I’m not a cop or looking to buy drugs”. In reality my best asset is my English accent, its very rare for a person not to respond to me when I ask to speak to them.. there is always that curiosity, it might come in the form of “I love your accent, where are you from?” or “hey Bitch where you from, that ain’t no Hood accent”. To me it doesn’t matter so long as it gets people talking, as that what I’m there to do. Many of the people in these streets will have refused to speak to the police, or to provide statements, but they may be prepared to talk to me. A street of 20 houses, at least 10 of them hit by stray gunfire, and when the police attended, no one heard a thing, apparently they were all asleep. I can usually find at least one or two who were not quite so asleep after all, and then there is always the local gossip who may actually hold a fair amount of truth.

I take photos of the scene on my iPhone, locations and lighting, where cars would have likely been parked, lines of sight for the neighboring and opposite houses. I’m not a crime scene investigator, but I have a good eye for a crime scene and will pass all my information back to the defense investigators and tell them what I want them to look for, what reconstructions I want. If it was a night time shooting then I’m sorry but I need an investigator to go back at night time. A day time photo or an ariel shot from Google Earth isn’t going to cut it with me.

I will often go back with the investigators to show them what I want. In the past I’ve borrowed cars to carry out reconstructions using the exact same car the police were sitting in to show that they could not have seen what they say they saw from inside the vehicle. I’ve asked cops to interrupt their lunch to get down on their knees in the middle of the diner and pull a weapon to show me whether it can be done the way my client has said it happened, and I’ve visited snitches in jail to tell them that so long as they keep out of my client’s way they should be ok as I’ve told my client that if the snitch dies, they too are going to face the same grim reaper that they have tattooed on their arm!

I am sure many of you are thinking that this is the stuff of Hollywood and doesn’t happen in real life, and that’s right, many lawyers don’t do anything more than meet their client at court and speak to them occasionally on the phone. But that’s not me, I need to get into the mind of my client and their life, and because of this I have ensured that most of my clients don’t go to Death Row and with those who do I can say I have tried.

Next stop is the local liquor store as these are often the focal point for these neighborhoods. As I walk up to the liquor store with its blacked out windows I’m never quite sure what to expect inside, but it is the usual, the clerk and all the alcohol behind bulletproof glass, money passed through a small gap where the glass meets the counter, a big metal pull out tray under the counter where the alcohol is delivered after payment is made. The only stuff on show are a few cans of coke in a side fridge. I grab a coke and join the queue, which parts for me to go to the front. I’m not from round here, they want to know why I’m there and possibly get me out as soon as possible. My problem is that I don’t want to go first, I want to talk to the clerk when he’s on his own. As soon as I walked into this store I realized that my client wouldn’t have walked into this store to jack it, the bullet proof glass, with American Rifle Association stickers all over it, gave it away that it’s not quite an easy target, so the other option is that he or those with him, were in here to buy a firearm. I explain to the clerk who I am and tell him that I am confused as to why my client went into the store that evening as surveillance footage shows that he didn’t exit with any liquor, was it perhaps that they card everyone, and my client didn’t have ID? The clerk completely ignores me.. oh well that’s a bust then. Two guys behind me snigger as though they can’t believe I am naïve enough to think that this liquor store cards all its customers. As I walk past them I mutter “or is it that he wanted something else that went in his waistband?”

By the time I exit the liquor store there are kids circling on bikes “hey lady, you been asking questions in my neighborhood?” It’s amazing how a 12 year old kid can create such an intimidating atmosphere, but my clients over the years have taught me ….don’t back down, don’t show a sign of weakness, you might still get shot or beaten but its less likely ..jeez thanks. So I don’t back down I walk up to the kids, I hand them all one of my cards, and they let me walk off. As I drive out of the parking lot, one of them circles up to my car, and gives me a name…it might come to nothing or it might be the breakthrough in my case. My client’s life might actually be saved by a 12 year old riding a bike!

Could you risk the dangers in order to reach villages cut off by the Nepal Earthquake? Please support those who are.

Imagine living on $3 a day, and then suddenly a bottle of water costs nearly a week’s wages.
Living in a village on a mountainside, growing all your own food on that mountainside, and finding that it is no longer there due to landslides, and that your house is in such an unsafe position that you shouldn’t let your children sleep in it, but there is nowhere else to shelter at night.

I don’t usually write begging letters, it’s not in my nature, but I am making an exception as I am hearing first hand by text and email about the plight of the people of Nepal. Those I know are out in Nepal working for charities, some are still missing. Others I know grabbed their Emergency bags and rushed to the airport in their home countries waiting for the phone call saying that they are booked on a fight. Most have not yet reached Nepal due to the fact the airstrips are not able to take the increased air traffic, and as I understand it, the airports are being closed regularly due to the aftershocks. You can imagine the frustrations they are feeling, sitting around in airport transit lounges knowing that they can help, if only they can get there.

Official reports are being given by the media that the death toll has increased to 3000, I am certain this is going to rise further, only this evening I heard of colleagues who managed to reach a village on motorbike, and were faced with over 30 bodies. The police and search and rescue have not reached this village yet, when they do, no doubt the death toll will rise. This is only one village, there are hundreds of villages which have not yet been reached.

Anyone who has been to Nepal or seen it in photos will know that it is a beautiful country, with a stunning landscape, but it is a very unforgiving landscape. Many villages are built on the mountainside, and one house on top of another, which has made the landslides even more dangerous and devastating.

While the tales of the number of people who have been killed in the earthquake and after effects are horrific, what is more horrific is that those who are alive are suffering from a lack of medical care, clean water, shelter, food. Many will be searching for family and friends, not knowing if they are dead or alive. Much of the UK media has been focused on the Europeans and Americans who are stranded on Mount Everest, but they are only a handful of those who are suffering.

Hence my begging letter, if you can spare some cash, perhaps forgo the lattes this week or the takeaway you were planning for Friday night, this will go a long way in the relief effort. I know many of you will be saying that you have seen the news exclusives and that most of the charities spend more on administration than they do on helping others. But not all do..

The Esther Benjamins Trust is based in Nepal, but is British run. At the moment their staff are on motorbikes, trying to reach villages to check up on children who had been rescued from human trafficking by the charity, and who had been placed back with their families. These children have already suffered trauma, imagine what they are now going through (if they have survived the quake itself). This is a small charity which was already making a huge difference to the lives of Nepalese children prior to the earthquake, but who now really need help to ensure that they can assist those families who have no shelter, and are facing the real threat of not being able to afford a bottle of water or bag of rice due to the ‘quake inflation.

You can donate to the Trust at http://www.ebtrust.org.uk/donate-to-charity or via text – Text EBTK13 £2/£5/£10 to 70070

Alternatively if you want to donate to a more well known charity, the British Red Cross has an earthquake appeal http://www.redcross.org.uk/NepalEarthquake

For the Aussies reading this, you can donate at https://donations.redcross.org.au

For the Yankees reading this, you can donate at http://www.redcross.org

It doesn’t need to be a lot, whatever you can spare will help.

And for those of you who are thinking of going out to Nepal to help..the message coming out of Nepal is “Don’t Come”. While you may be good intentioned, you will use up the scarce resources such as water and fuel. If you want to help, please pass around this blog, and sign on for newsletter updates with charities such as Esther Benjamins and the British Red Cross, in due course, when the time is right, they will be asking for assistance, such as bedding and warm clothing, and volunteers to help rebuild schools and medical centers.

‘It’s those who think it will never happen to them who are most at risk ‘. The role that Grassroots Sport can play in combatting Child Sexual Exploitation.

Recently I attended a training session at Rotherham United FC, this time it wasn’t anything to do with football training, but instead helping grassroots coaches and team managers to identify potential child exploitation, and to help young people recognise that they may be a target of a groomer. The dangers of child sexual exploitation are everywhere, any youth, any age, can be groomed. Some may be groomed quicker than others, a few hours in some cases, and over a year in other cases. The whole point of grooming is identifying a person’s weakness and exploiting it. In reality, those most at risk of grooming are young people and their parents who believe it will never happen to them, the youths who have supportive parents and activity filled lives. The reason they are most at risk is exactly because they think it will never happen to them, so they are not looking out for the signs – the supposed football scout who turns up at youth football matches, speaks to parents and gains their trust, or the person who advertises exam tuition classes in the family home. Over time that person gains the trust of the family, and at the same time learns about the youth, and hence can identify their vulnerability, or waits for a vulnerability to show. All it takes is an argument with parents, a broken relationship, or some poor school results, and they then become a shoulder to cry on, a person who understands. It is at this stage the sexual exploitation can start in earnest, and before the youth or parents realise what is happening, it can often be too late. The whole point of the child sexual exploitation grassroots sports training is to help those who work regularly with youths to identify the signs, such as the football scout who is attending youth matches, but who hasn’t previously contacted the local Football Association to arrange their attendance, the child who usually turns up to swimming club on their own but who has recently been turning up with an adult who isn’t a family member or friend, a player who has started to act violently towards other players on the field, or who will no longer undress infront of their team mates in the changing rooms. All of this is placing a big responsibility on sports coaches and managers, and they shouldn’t be expected to do it alone. Parents should also be aware of the signs, not just in their own children, but listen to their sons and daughters when they are talking about the changes they are seeing in their friends. A friend whose parents are on low income, and all of a sudden the friend has a brand new iPhone which he uses at school but which his parents don’t know about. The friend who is wearing new clothes and is talking about the new ‘older’ friends she is chatting to online. The youth who suddenly has new football boots and is being dropped off at training in an unknown vehicle. While we can reflect on how sad it is that we have to be suspicious of others, it is exactly these suspicions which can help to prevent future child sexual exploitation. Just being an extra set of eyes and ears, and if we see something which doesn’t seem right, to challenge it. If the football scout is genuine, they will accept that they have to be listed with the local Football Association, if the person taking an interest in the young swimmer is a family friend they should be happy to provide their name if asked.

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