As football supporters, as Everton supporters, what you are about to read should both sadden and anger you. That a fellow blue has been treated in such a manner is nothing short of disgraceful and all those responsible should be ashamed of their involvement in what can only be described as nothing short of bullying and harassment.
Our civil liberties are enshrined in many documents; most people are familiar with The Human Rights Act and The European Convention on Human Rights, article ten of which details the right to free speech. This is a fundamental and inalienable right of every person in this country, it is a cornerstone of freedom and is a protected right which the state must not censor unnecessarily. Of course alongside these rights there must exist rules; laws designed to protect individuals and society in general. Some laws rightly govern and control the scope and extent of free speech; they protect people who are the subject of false allegations through legislation such as The Defamation Act 1996 and The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a law which has the potential to provide protection against racial harassment, bullying and domestic abuse.
Sadly these vital pieces of legislation have been used to silence innocent people, to restrict their inalienable right to freedom of speech. The Guardian reported in 2009 that The Protection from Harassment Act in particular is being used a weapon for corporations against peaceful protesters to stifle legitimate protest. Opportunistic lawyers have used the act to apply for very broad injunctions to prevent any sort of protest against client companies. The supposed victim, always an individual as you cannot harass a company under the legislation, may ultimately seek an injunction, which if broken, by simply talking or protesting, is viewed as a criminal offence carrying up to five years imprisonment.
Most reasonable people will be abhorred that legislation designed to protect victims of injustice, of bullying, of racial harassment, of domestic abuse, is being used by businesses to silence their critics.
Richard Knights is a middle aged, quietly spoken, primary school teacher. Passionate about his family, Everton FC and education, Richard has been vociferously opposed to Everton’s free school and, as any campaigner has the inalienable right, he’s organised public meetings, he’s written letters to the press, lobbied politicians; in fact he’s contacted everybody involved in the project at Everton and EiTC including Everton’s chairman, Bill Kenwright, who applauded Richard’s passion, advising him, in writing, to meet with the projects key people.
Last month Richard received a series of letters from a solicitor, the same solicitor that had recently threatened to take out a defamation action on behalf of Everton against a well-known football editor of a national newspaper who had criticised the performance of those running the club; an action which failed to materialise due to the journalist knowing who to turn to for corroboration of the facts; you see, the truth isn’t actionable.
The letters Richard received contained preposterous allegations that were wholly refuted, allegations such as being forcibly removed, by a security guard, from the club shop for abusive behaviour; premises that Richard had been nowhere near. Then, one evening, came a knock on Richards’s door; it was the police, the football intelligent unit. The officer, acting without any form of evidence save for these written allegations, issued Richard with a recordable verbal warning over harassment of the free school principle, a gentleman whom Richard had met once, for ten seconds at a public event, had sent one email to and unsuccessfully tried on one occasion to contact by phone.
A further letter from the solicitor, confirming the injunction intention, warned Richard of his future conduct, advised him to restrict all future communication to the written word, which he complied with when enquiring after the supporter liaison officer, a position that forms part of the UEFA licencing requirement, liaising between fan and club. Paul Tyrrell, Everton’s Director of Communications, informed him that the SLO was an existing member of his staff and somewhat bizarrely forbid Richard from speaking with her under any circumstances. He then, citing The Protection from Harassment Act and season ticket regulations, revoked Richard’s season ticket the day before the recent derby game.
Richard, as a primary school teacher, has to undergo CRB checks which will identify what has happened and could jeopardize his future employment prospects. He has had his season ticket revoked for no valid reason whatsoever. He has not broken any ticket or ground regulation, he is not the perpetrator of a harassment campaign; he is in fact the victim of an orchestrated harassment campaign designed to silence his dissent and campaign against the free school, a non- footballing matter.
Most reasonable people reading this will be pleased to learn that the IPCC, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the same organisation investigating the collusion between a police force and a football club against Liverpool fans, has already upheld a serious complaint Richard has made; others will be less pleased, people who make vexatious allegations and those who hide behind “I was only acting on instructions”; why should these people be allowed to continue to bully and harass those speaking the truth and those lawfully exercising their inalienable rights?
Many others will be embarrassed by these actions, people like Deputy Chief Constable of Merseyside, Mr Bernard Lawson, who is a trustee of EiTC, and sponsors and contributory bodies that purport to protect people from bullying and harassment will all learn not of this highly abridged version but the true facts and what has really taken place here.
This is not about Everton’s free school, this is not about whether you agree with Richard’s campaign, this is about freedom of speech; this is about the right to express an opinion without fear of reprisal. Dave and Colin, the two officers of KEIOC pictured above, disagree over the free school, yet both are unanimous in their condemnation of Richard’s treatment. The irony, surrounding the fact that people, wanting to teach some of the most difficult children in the city, those already excluded from main streams of education, have been allegedly intimidated by a middle aged, quietly spoken, primary school teacher, will not be lost on many; it would be laughable if it were not so serious.
KEIOC has already lobbied the Football Supporters Federation who has reffered the case to a barrister who will be contacting Richard Knights. The FSF may also consider bringing this case to the attention of Liberty for information purposes since they feel it may be of interest to them.
Scheming and conspiring against our supporters has gone on for far too long, the evidence is there for all to see, but this time they’ve gone too far and Evertonians should recognise that this is fundamentally wrong and join us in not only exposing what has happened here but obtaining justice for Richard. Shouldn’t Merseyside Police afford the same courtesy to Richard, as a victim of harassment, as they were so keen to offer others?
Further details will be appearing on this website shortly.