Trial by media

Attending Tottenham's match at Portsmouth last year led to a traumatic experience  for Ian Trow, who has just been cleared of abusive chanting charges. Adam Powley takes up the case

The new football season had barely got underway before a handful of incidents involving supporters stirred old prejudices about fans being trouble makers. But while fighting at West Ham and trouble surrounding Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal celebration for Manchester City against Arsenal sparked predictable alarm, the experience of one supporter shows what can happen when innocent bystanders are tarnished by association.

Ian Trow was one of a number of Spurs fans accused of chanting obscenities at Sol Campbell at Fratton Park last season. After initially being found guilty by magistrates, his Crown Court appeal in September to overturn the conviction proved successful. The decision came after he had been fined, subjected to a three-year banning order, had his season ticket at White Hart Lane withheld and saw himself and his family subjected to almost a year of stress, abuse and suspicion. “It hasn’t put me off football but it has made me question the justice system,” Trow told WSC. “I’ve always taught my kids about right and wrong and to respect the police and the authorities – but this has challenged that.”

The case stems from Tottenham’s visit to Portsmouth, for whom Campbell then played, in September 2008. Campbell has been subjected to varying degrees of abuse from a section of the Spurs support since his controversial switch to Arsenal eight years ago, including one infamous song that wishes him mental illness, HIV and suicide. Amid complaints from Campbell and his then manager Harry Redknapp, the police took action. CCTV images of 16 fans alleged to have taken part in what was variously reported as racist, homophobic and obscene abuse were widely printed and broadcast, and appeared alongside suspected murderers on the Crimestoppers website.

The first Trow knew that he was among the suspects was when he was staying in a hotel in Germany and received phone calls from friends informing him he was one of those pictured. He contacted Hampshire Police and along with ten others was subsequently charged with abusive chanting. Four of the accused pleaded guilty in January; five of the rest accepted cautions in early May.

Despite appearing in only a few seconds of 30 inconclusive minutes of video evidence, Trow and another fan, a 14-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons, were found guilty at Portsmouth magistrates’ court in mid-May. They appealed and last month at Portsmouth Crown Court Judge Richard Price dismissed the evidence against both and swiftly quashed their convictions. In stark contrast to the earlier trial, barely any media representatives were in attendance.

Trow, a 42-year-old financial consultant from Milton Keynes, has been left angry and bemused. “It’s put me and my family through a lot and had an effect on my work. Justice had been served, but at the same time I was seething that it had been allowed to get as far as it had done. I wasn’t singing anything other than songs in support of Spurs. I’m now considering legal action and will leave it in the hands of my solicitors.”

Trow also has suspicions about the real motives behind the case. “I think it was all about setting a legal precedent, a show trial, with the media invited along. I found similar stuff on YouTube of fans chanting indecently and asked the police if they were going to take any action. They said they didn’t find the examples indecent but also said no action would be taken because it wasn’t in the media. They were almost apologetic.”

Hampshire Police are not commenting while possible legal action is pending. Trow is at pains to point out that he condemns the chants against Campbell and does not join in the abuse. Thankful for the support of his family, friends, fellow fans and the Tottenham Hotspur supporters trust who encouraged him to fight the case, what he wants to do now is to start supporting Spurs again.

At the time of writing he was due to collect his season ticket from the club, as the banning order had been lifted. “Apart from having the ticket taken away in February, which I thought was a bit unfair, I’ve got no complaints against the club,” says Trow. “At the time when the photos of the suspects were being circulated they didn’t put them in the match programme nor on the big screen at White Hart Lane as they had been requested to do.” A contrast to when Trow’s face was splashed across the media a few months ago. His acquittal received hardly a fraction of the coverage.

From WSC 273 November 2009