Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd: CA 1987

The court was asked whether services provided by the police at Sheffield United Football Club for the club’s home fixtures were ‘special police services’ so that, if they were provided at the club’s request, the police could charge for them. Up until 1970 the club had made special arrangements for the attendance of police officers at matches for which payments had been made. Thereafter the police continued to attend at matches both inside and outside the ground, but the club’s view was that they were obliged to do so in accordance with their duty to maintain law and order. The club refused to make any payment. The police authority claimed pounds 51,669 for the services of officers inside the ground for a 15 month period between August 1982 and November 1983 on the basis that they were ‘special police services’. The club argued that they were not and that the police were doing no more than carrying out their duty. Further, the club denied that over a short period at the end of 1983 they had ‘requested’ police services for the purposes of the section and counterclaimed a declaration that they were not liable to make any payment for police services unless they requested attendance by officers to fulfil roles other than police duty.
Held: Whilst the courts must be astute to condemn illegal acts by the police, ‘The true rule, in my judgment is as follows. In deciding how to exercise his public duty of enforcing the law, and of keeping the peace, a chief constable has a discretion, which he must exercise even-handedly. Provided he acts within his discretion, the courts will not interfere;. . . . In exercising that discretion a chief constable must clearly have regard to the resources available to him.’
Neill LJ: ‘Bearing these considerations in mind I return to the present case. The club has responsibilities which are owed not only to its employees and the spectators who attend but also to the football authorities to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the game takes place in conditions which do not occasion danger to any person or property. The attendance of the police is necessary to assist the club in the fulfillment of this duty. The matches take place regularly and usually at weekends during about eight months of the year. Though the holding of the matches is of some public importance because of the wide spread support in the local community both for the game and the club, the club is not under any legal duty to hold the matches. The charges which the police authority seek to make, and have made, relate solely to the officers on duty inside the ground and not to those in the street or other public places outside.
There is clear evidence that the chief constable would be unable to provide the necessary amount of protection for Bramall Lane and also to discharge his other responsibilities without making extensive use of officers who would otherwise have been off duty. Substantial sums by a way of overtime have therefore to be paid. The arrangements for the attendance of the officers are made to guard against the possibility, and for some matches the probability, of violence; the officers are not sent to deal with an existing emergency, nor can it be said that any outbreak of violence is immediately imminent.
In my judgment, looking at all these factors I am driven to the conclusion that the provision of police officers to attend regularly at Bramall Lane throughout the football season does constitute the provision of special police services. Nor in my opinion is it to the point that the club has stated that they do not expect the police to carry out any duties other then to maintain law and order. The resources of the police are finite. In my view if the club wishes on a regular basis to make an exceptional claim on police services to deal with potential violence on its premises, then however well intentioned and public spirited it may be in assembling the crowd at Bramall Lane, the services which it receives are ‘special police services’ within the meaning of section 15(1) of the Police Act 1964.’
Balcombe LJ said that the chief constable had a discretion which he must exercise even handedly. Provided he acted within his discretion, the courts would not interfere. ‘In answering the question whether the provision of police within the club’s ground was a special service the judge said: ‘The numbers considered necessary to carry out these services could only be provided by calling on officers who, at the material times, would otherwise have been off duty. The scope and extent of those services and their impact on the chief constable’s manpower resources put them beyond what the club, in the circumstances, was entitled to have provided in pursuance of the chief constable’s public duty. He was entitled to provide those services because he was able to do so without depriving other people of police protection. In other words, the services provided were within his powers; they were not within the scope of his public duty. I am satisfied that they were special services as I understand that expression to have been used in the Glasbrook case and within the meaning of section 15(1) of the Police Act 1964. It follows that he was entitled to provide them on condition that they were paid for’. In my judgment that is a correct statement of the legal position which cannot be faulted.’
Balcombe LJ, Neill LJ
[1988] QB 77, [1987] 2 All ER 838, [1987] 3 WLR 305
Police Act 1964 15(1)
England and Wales
CitedGlasbrook Brothers Limited v Glamorgan County Council HL 1925
A colliery manager asked for police protection for his colliery during a strike. He wanted police officers to be billeted on the premises. The senior police officer for the area was willing to provide protection by a mobile force, but he refused to . .
CitedWathen v Sandys 1811
The sheriff was not entitled to charge candidates at an election for the provision of constables at the polling booth because he was under a duty to procure the peace of the county. . .

Cited by:
CitedRegina v Chief Constable of Sussex, ex Parte International Trader’s Ferry Limited HL 2-Apr-1998
Chief Constable has a Wide Discretion on Resources
Protesters sought to prevent the appellant’s lawful trade exporting live animals. The police provided assistance, but then restricted it, pleading lack of resources. The appellants complained that this infringed their freedom of exports under . .
CitedReading Festival Ltd v West Yorkshire Police Authority CA 3-May-2006
The organisers of a music festival in Leeds appealed a decision that they were liable to pay in full a bill from the police for additional services in policing the festival.
Held: The organisers appeal succeeded. Whilst it was a matter for the . .
CitedGreater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Ltd ChD 21-Dec-2007
The claimant sought payment under section 25 from the defendant football club for the costs of policing football matches. The defendant said that the sums were not due since the events had been over-policed, and had not been agreed or requested.
CitedGreater Manchester Police v Wigan Athletic AFC Ltd CA 19-Dec-2008
The parties disputed the amounts payable by a football club to the police for the attendance of police officers at matches. The defendant appealed against a finding that it had requested the services for which charges had been made under section 25 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 22 July 2021; Ref: scu.192008