Leeds Festival Policing

The owners of Leeds Festival at the time, Mean Fiddler Group, had been ordered at Leeds High Court to pay West Yorkshire Police nearly £300,000 for its services at the Bramham Park venue in 2003. But the Court of Appeal ruled in 2007 that “special police services” had not been requested in 2003 and could not be recovered from the promoter.

Lord Justice Scott Baker said the ruling had wider implications for major events and any large gatherings of the public. He said the Court was being asked to decide on the dividing line between services the police must provide as part of its public duty and special services provided at the request of promoters and, for which, promoters must pay. He said: “There is a strong argument that where promoters put on a function such as a music festival or sporting event which is attended by large numbers of the public, the police should be able to recover the additional cost they are put to for policing the event and the local community affected by it” and that “this seems only just where the event is run for profit. That, however, is not the law.”

Allowing the promoter’s Appeal, he said it had not been established that a request had been made for “special police services” at the three-day event. The court heard that Mean Fiddler had organised the Leeds Festival since 1999 and asked for and paid for “special police services” until 2003. But in 2003 there was a change of police strategy for the 2003 festival with a much lower profile on site. There was a relatively small number of plain clothes officers on site. The original trial judge, HH Judge Simon Grenfell, sitting in Leeds High Court identified various matters of factual common ground. These included that a temporary control centre was set up in Wetherby for the additional police officers who were on duty because of the festival. Very large numbers of police officers were required to be on duty for the duration of the festival, many of whom would otherwise have been on holiday or off duty. It was not in issue that deployment of those large numbers was caused by the staging of the three day festival. Nor was it disputed that Mean Fiddler requested special traffic policing and paid for it promptly. However, Mean Fiddler proceeded on the understanding that if there was no police presence on the site of the festival itself then it was not liable to pay for other services. This, it was submitted, was the crucial distinction. Officers deployed off site were providing ordinary police services and not ‘special police services’. The Court were told that a similar situation was in place for 2004 and 2005 when the festival again took place.

The Court of Appeal held that it requires a contract between the police and the promoter as the basis for the charge to be levied by the police. The effect of this is that the promoter can stipulate a budget and say what he wants, what he does not want and what he is prepared to pay for. Equally, the police can say that it is not prepared to provide the services asked for. Each side has a right of veto. Thus, the Court of Appeal held that the Judge’s finding that there was no “meeting of minds” as to the services to be provided was fatal to WYP’s claim.

The Judge said it was for the promoter to decide, after negotiation, what special police services it wanted. Otherwise, it would have no choice but to pay the police for whatever scale of operation they themselves chose to mount. Lord Justice Barker added: “Whilst I entirely accept that it is a matter for the police how the policing is conducted and the promoter cannot dictate to the police how they are to perform their public duty, that does not in my view put the promoter in an all or nothing situation as far as ‘special police services’ are concerned. He can, for example, say that there is a ceiling to his budget to which the police would be entitled to respond that they were not prepared to provide any ‘special police services’. (An event organiser) can say what he wants and is prepared to pay for, and what he does not want. Each side has a right of veto”.

Lord Justice Barker concluded by saying: “Thus a clear request for police presence inside a festival arena or a request for other additional services above and beyond what the police might be reasonably expected to do to maintain law and order and protect life and property at a festival would surely then be the provision of special police services and thus be charged as a cost to a promoter or festival organiser. Conversely where there is no request there can be no provision of special police services and if services provided are only that which the police would usually provide then again it is suggested these would not amount to special police services”.

Or put another way. He that pays the piper calls the tune. West Yorkshire Police didn’t learn the lyrics as they were found to be out of tune with the law again when facing the music over policing costs at the Leeds Utd football ground.