Last November’s 0-0 draw between Brighton and Crystal Palace at The Amex Stadium won’t exactly go down as a footballing classic but away from the pitch, a battle between the Eagles faithful and Sussex Police rages on to this day, after Freedom of Information requests were ignored by the latter.
The night itself is well remembered by the Palace fans who bought tickets for the game after hundreds were left outside the stadium with no explanation, only to then be marched back to Falmer station without being allowed in to see the match in question. Alongside that, the official Police report following the conclusion of the game made reference to “knives and knuckle-dusters” being found within the Palace away end, suggesting that the actions of Palace fans represented a “return to the dark days of football”.
In the days and weeks that followed, the report filed by superintendent Simon Nelson was heavily scrutinised, leading to fanzine Five Year Plan asking for proof of said items being discovered amongst the Crystal Palace fans. Predictably, Sussex Police were unable to provide any such evidence and were forced to publicly apologise to both clubs soon after, when admitting that the accusation about “knives and knuckle-dusters” had been made by a steward to a member of the Police and subsequently included in the official report on “good faith” rather than actual proof of their existence.
Upon release of the Police apology, Five Year Plan submitted a Freedom of Information request in a bid to discover exactly how such damaging accusations had been taken at face value by Sussex Police, given the already heightened sense of tension surrounding the fixture. In February, Sussex Police responded by refusing to comply with the fanzine’s requests on the grounds of public interest, leading to three further unsuccessful attempts and a formal complaint to the Information Commission’s Office in June.
Having scrutinised the complaint, the ICO have upheld Five Year Plan’s complaint, leaving Sussex Police with five weeks in which to either respond accordingly, issue a valid refusal notice or risk contempt of court for their lack of cooperation.
Five Year Plan, particularly Rob Sutherland, deserve immense credit for their tenacity in searching for the truth over the last few months. Were it not for them, the lies relating to weapons being found in the Palace end of The Amex Stadium would have tarnished our supporters’ names unfairly for decades to come.
I’ll do my best to keep you abreast of any further developments as and when they occur.