Mean Fiddler not liable for cost of police presence at Leeds Festival

June 2006

Live Event Industry
Reading Festival Limited v West Yorkshire Police Authority [2006] EWCA Civ 524

The Mean Fiddler Group (owner of Reading Festival Limited) has won a Court of Appeal battle over who pays to police major events. They had been ordered to pay West Yorkshire Police nearly £300,000 for its services at the Leeds Festival in 2003. But The Court of Appeal said 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 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, for which promoters must pay. Lord Justice Scott Baker 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 appeal, he said it had not been established that a request had been made for “special police services” at the three-day event at Bramham Park near Leeds. 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 trial Judge (HH Judge Grenfall) 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.

Section 25(1) of the Police Act 1996 states that “The chief officer of a police force may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the police of charges on such scales as may be determined by that authority.”

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.

Scott Baker LJ 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 chose to mount. Barker LJ 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’. He can say what he wants and is prepared to pay for, and what he does not want. Each side has a right of veto. In my judgment, although it does not expressly say so, it is very difficult to see how section 25(1) can operate absent a contract “ and found that the court would allow the appeal and enter judgment for Mean Fiddler because it is not established they made a request for ‘special police services’ within the meaning of section 25(1) of the Police Act 1996

The Court of Appeal carefully considered two precedents on police costs. In Glasbrook Brothers Limited v Glamorgan County Council [1925] AC 270 a colliery manager applied for police protection of his colliery during a strike. The police superintendent was prepared to provide what, in his opinion, was adequate protection by means of a mobile force. The manager insisted the colliery could only be efficiently protected by billeting men on the premises . The House of Lords (on a 3-2 decision) held that it was legal for a police authority to charge for the garrison of officers and their services and that there was nothing illegal about the agreement.

The case of Harris v Sheffield United Football Club Ltd [1988] 1QB 77 established the legality of a contractual agreement to provide special police services under the Police Act 1964, here at Sheffield United Football Club’s football ground. Here the provision of officers inside the ground was held to go beyond the chief constable’s obligation to arrange for the attendance of officers to fulfill the police’s duties to maintain law and order and protect life and property; thus they could be charged for although it should be noted that in this case the police were not seeking to recover any costs of policing outside the ground. Lord Justice Scott Baker made it clear that the decision in the Leeds Festival case did not overrule the previous case law saying; Ultimately each case will depend on its own particular circumstances. Different considerations will be material in different cases. The facts in Glasbrook were very different from the facts in Harris just as those in Harris are very different from the facts of the present case. Scott Baker LJ confessed to having some difficulty in defining what special police services might be saying. Essentially, however, ‘special police services’ will be something that someone wants, hence the importance of the link in the section with a request.

The words ‘special police services’ are not defined in the 1996 Act but Scott LJ Baker summarized Neill LJ In Harris to give some guidelines as to what courts would look at when determining whether or not special police services were involved (although every case will turn on its own facts):

  • Police attendance on private premises
  • whether some violence or emergency had already occurred or was imminent
  • the nature of the event eg public (and election) or private (a wedding)
  • whether policing the event could be met from usual police resources

Scott Baker LJ said that one of two key features would usually be present in special police services:

  • the services will have been asked for but will go beyond what the police consider necessary to meet their public duty obligation; or
  • they are services which, if the police do not provide them, the promoter will have to provide them from his own resources

There mere fact of an event drawing on police resources is not enough. There must be a request for services and if there is a request then the court would see if the services required amount to special police services. 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.

The full judgment can be seen at

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