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Kick It Out: Tackling discrimination, one case at a time

PICTURED: Scott Shulton

WHEN PEOPLE ask me all the things Kick It Out does, I have to say to them ‘How long have you got?’
I can give you a partial answer now. Here’s a case study that demonstrates a little bit of our work – and it starts on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in Essex.

On the terraces, 432 shivering fans are braving the arctic conditions for their football fix.
Meanwhile on the pitch, Braintree Town and Hemel Hempstead, two play-off chasing sides in the National League South – step six of the English pyramid - are doing battle.

For one player this fixture has an added dimension. Midfielder Scott Shulton began the season playing for Braintree before switching counties to sign for Hemel Hempstead in October. He knows the opposition players as well as his team mates.

As is standard procedure when an ex-player is reunited with his former club, Shulton is a 'popular' visitor.

There were just 30 seconds on the clock when, according to a match report, the former Wycombe Wanderers player was left clutching his ankle and requiring treatment following a heavy challenge.
But the same report says it's fair game.

Indeed, in the wake of the result – a 2-1 win for the visitors, secured by an injury time winner - the Braintree and Witham Times wrote: “The ex-Braintree man was playing the role of pantomime villain perfectly for the home fans as he engaged in battles all over the pitch, in particular with his opposite number – [Billy] Crook – in the middle of the park.”

Tempers frayed throughout, according to another account, but a flashpoint midway through the second-half tipped the scales.

As Shulton later explained in a statement to the FA: “He [Crook] was behind me and he kicked out at me and we ended up arguing.”

“I used to make you look good.”
“No one liked you here anyway.”
“You’re not gonna do anything anyway.”
“F*****g Jew.”

And for Scott Shulton that's when it all changed.

Angry, he immediately reported the incident to the referee, who had not heard the comment. Nor had the other match officials. Crucially, however, the incident was caught on CCTV.

He repeated his allegation to the officials at the end of the match and tweeted about the incident, which alerted Kick It Out’s reporting officer, Sam McLeod.

“Scott and I worked through our reporting form and sent it to the FA. He was upset about what had happened,” she said.

“What shocked me was after it had happened he told some of his black team mates this to him was the same as being called a black b*****d. In 2018 he shouldn’t have had to explain it.”

Nearly a month later, on February 14, the FA obtained a statement from the player as part of their investigation. Sam attended the meeting with Scott and the pair presented CCTV footage from the game that showed a melee in the wake of the comments.

“After the victim statement we were told the next step would be for the FA to interview Billy,” said Sam.
The pair were not told when the interview would take place. “The trail went quiet and at one stage we were told the snow had prevented the investigation team from going to Braintree."

Scott grew frustrated.

The following month, in March, statements were taken from Crook and the match referee.
The month after that – and 16 weeks after the incident – Crook, who denied using anti-Semitic language, was charged.

The players’ personal hearing took place on 12 June, nearly six months after the incident. It took all of a working day.

In his hearing Scott categorically stated: “I put my life on it” when questioned whether he might have misheard Crook.

Eventually the FA concluded “the occurrence of the event was more likely than not,” based on the evidence presented, which included CCTV footage of the fallout.
At last, Scott has justice.

“I was relieved, pleased and proud of him. Justice was achieved,” Sam said.The player himself added: “It’s been a long process to get to here, it happened back in January. I’m pleased with the outcome. People need to stand up to it - it’s not acceptable to happen nowadays. The support from Kick It Out and the club has been great, and I’m pleased that we got to the outcome where it was proven.”

Although he may not have felt it during the process, Scott is one of the lucky ones. Without the CCTV, a conviction would have been highly unlikely. Nor is every victim able to receive the same level of support as he did.

The case also underlines the level of effort required to get justice. Notwithstanding the need to prove guilt, it took six months to reach a conclusion. Most victims would have lost faith in the system and pulled the plug by that point, or sooner.

Fortunately, Scott persisted. But many do not.

At Kick It Out we see scores of allegations fall by the wayside as victims are unprepared – and unable - to navigate the long-winded processes currently in place. And the fact we have just one reporting officer in place makes it likely some people won't get the justice Scott did.

It is simply not possible to offer in-depth support to every victim. We do not have the resources or time.

If the FA are serious about tackling discrimination, and I have no doubt they are, then we could do with a little more help to get there.

Everyone deserves to be treated justly and fairly but in most cases it requires time, patience, perseverance and resources to negotiate the system to secure a fair hearing and outcome.

Some people require extensive support, advice and assistance if justice is to be seen and done.

Kick it Out is ready to make that essential provision if the necessary resources can be found to do so.

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