Club faces legal threat on disabled
Legal proceedings against Manchester United over its alleged treatment of disabled fans has not been ruled out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The club has defended the conduct of its stewards after they took walking aids off some Arsenal fans during the final home game of the season at Old Trafford.
Upon entering the ground on May 17, a number of away supporters had their crutches and walking sticks taken away from them and they were not returned until after the final whistle.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has now written to the club and the Premier League, raising its concerns over the treatment of disabled supporters.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief legal officer at the EHRC, said it received a number of complaints and as a result wrote to Manchester United and the Premier League.
She said: "Premier League clubs have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure reasonable adjustment for disabled fans and to make sure they do not discriminate against them in the provision of goods and services.
"While our preference is always to work with organisations to avoid costly legal proceedings, all options remain on the table because disabled fans deserve better."
She added: "Complaints have been about disabled fans being prevented from obtaining season tickets, a lack of adequate space for wheelchair users, and problems for families with young disabled children being unable to sit together to enjoy a game.
"Some of the most recent complaints have concerned Manchester United and the removal of walking aids from disabled away fans."
Ms Hilsenrath added that the EHRC was seeking "urgent assurances" that disabled fans will be treated fairly and equally, and that it was also seeking urgent meetings with them to clear up the issues identified.
Meanwhile, Manchester United defended its approach, claiming walking sticks and other aids can be used as weapons
A spokesman for the club said: "Our club policy is to encourage any supporters who require the use of crutches or a walking aid to contact the club in advance to ensure each case is adequately risk assessed and that we can ensure safe evacuation in the event of emergency.
"On some rare occasions, we have also experienced such devices being used as weapons. This policy is displayed at the turnstiles and on our website. The disability liaison officers from both clubs also communicate this policy in advance.
"Where supporters arrive without having pre-notified us of the need for such devices, our stewarding team performs a dynamic risk assessment which usually involves finding a solution to accompany the supporter to their seat and storing the walking device during the game.
"At the game in question a significant number of visiting supporters who had not pre-notified the club arrived with walking devices.
"Therefore the above system was put into place."
United denied reports disabled supporters had been denied entry.
"No person was refused entry to the stadium," the spokesperson added.
"Manchester United prides itself on ensuring that all supporters can safely be accommodated at Old Trafford."
A Premier League spokesman confirmed that last year it had started working with the EHRC on a project to identify scope for improvement in disabled facilities on offer at stadia, but that talks had been suspended after the EHRC cited pre-election purdah rules.
Adding that it had received a letter today, he continued: "The clubs remain committed to identifying scope for improvement of disabled supporter access in their stadia - it was discussed again at yesterday's AGM with an agreement to expedite this important project."