Senior officer calls on clubs to work better with police to tackle abuse

Dan Kilpatrick
·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The country’s most senior football police officer has said the Premier League, EFL and clubs can make it difficult for authorities to take action against perpetrators of online abuse.

Deputy chief constable Mark Roberts said police often had trouble gaining access to targeted players and called for a “streamlined process” for tackling abuse.

Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt is the latest high-profile player to share abuse he received online, while Manchester United trio Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial were all targeted last month.

“We do have instances, sometimes quite high-profile, others not so high-profile, where we actually have difficulty getting to the player to make a statement,” DCC Roberts told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

“Footballers tend to be very well looked after, especially at the higher end, and sometimes getting through club legal departments, player welfare teams [is hard].

Mark RobertsAFP via Getty Images
Mark RobertsAFP via Getty Images

“It sets us off with a delay straight away and certainly we’ve had experiences where a force is making real attempts to get to a player, they’ve hit this wall at a club and then publicly the player’s saying, ‘Where are the police, why are they not making contact?’

“I want a streamlined process, so we can have that engagement, we can support the players and then we can start taking positive action. Because when we face a delay at the start, we then face the difficulties of the delays we have with the social media companies.”

Top-flight players are continuing to take a knee before matches, one of a number of public messages from the Premier League and EFL over tackling racist abuse – but Roberts believes such campaigns only go so far.

“What you really need to see is positive action, people being held to account,” he said, while acknowledging that not all victims want to take that path.

In a statement, the Premier League said: “The Premier League has been constantly involved in bilateral discussions with Mark Roberts and his colleagues on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, responding to the points he has raised on the subject of racism and online abuse.

“These meetings have involved Premier League staff, our clubs, other major football organisations and key stakeholder groups, as well as social media platforms. As a result of these conversations we welcome the increased emphasis now being given to hate crime.

“We are doing everything possible to eradicate online racial abuse currently being experienced by players and all forms of discrimination. We will continue to work closely with the police and CPS on these important matters.”

The Premier League said DCC Roberts was present at a virtual meeting of all clubs last week which served as an education on how the top-flight’s online system for reporting abuse works, and outlined the police and Crown Prosecution Service processes available to victims.

Executive director of the Premier League Bill Bush told Today that “the vast majority” of abuse came from overseas and so was outside the jurisdiction of UK police, and stressed that social media companies were blocking tougher action.

“There’s nothing we can do when companies like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter do extraordinarily little to deal with the abuse,” Bush told Today.

Getty Images
Getty Images

“They could take action against account holders and they don’t. And then when we do come to the relatively small number of cases which are absolutely slam dunk illegal in terms of case law here in the UK, they then obstruct the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to make it months and months and month before anything remotely resembling a case comes forward.”

Bush added: “Many players don’t want to get involved in giving statements. They’ve seen it all before, nothing happens, so they feels it’s time wasted.”

He continued: “Mark speaks for the national police chiefs council. The actual relationships are local, Manchester clubs with Greater Manchester Police and so on, who do match-day policing and have close relationships with the clubs, and they’re very active in working with our clubs to make sure there’s a local relationship.

“Mark and his people offer more of a national framework so his proposal would be to introduce another layer of bureaucracy in getting speed of reaction.”

The EFL has been contacted for comment.

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