Euro 96 violence targeted by police

JASON BENNETTO

Crime Correspondent

Photographs of 150 suspected football hooligans taken during a mini-riot are to be published in newspapers as part of a clampdown on violence on the eve of the European Championships.

Nineteen people were arrested yesterday in dawn raids on 30 homes as part of the same initiative. "Operation Harvest" was launched into the violence that broke out in Newcastle upon Tyne after the failure of the city's football team to win the Premier League.

Yesterday's raids follow extensive analysis of footage from 16 city-centre closed-circuit television videos of the violence on 5 May. This is believed to be the biggest operation using CCTV technology.

Police and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, stressed yesterday that this type of hard-hitting initiative was also meant as a message to hooligans who intend to disrupt Euro 96, which starts on 8 June. A gang calling themselves the Gremlins, who have a history of causing trouble at Newcastle United games, have left cards boasting of impending trouble at Euro 96.

Film of the violence was used to identify the people targeted in yesterday's raid, but "mug shots" of a further unknown 150 suspects have been obtained. These will be published in local newspapers in the north-east next week along with a police telephone number for members of the public to ring with any details.

Chief Superintendent Peter Durham, of Newcastle police, said yesterday's raids were the biggest operation of its kind using CCTV film. He added that up to 200 people could face charges as a result of the violence that followed Newcastle's last match of the season against Tottenham Hotspur.

"I am sure that there are people who think that they are going to have an opportunity to cause trouble, but this operation has sent the very strongest signal for Euro 96," he said.

The raids were carried out in Newcastle, Birtley, Washington, Durham City and north and south Tyneside.

Those arrested were being questioned about a range of offences, including criminal damage, violent disorder, affray, and burglary.

Police had found machetes, imitation firearms and forged pounds 20 notes. Racist football literature was also recovered. Some of the items seized chronicled trips to foreign matches.

Up to 1,000 young men were involved in fighting and vandalism in the Bigg Market area of Newcastle, near the Central Station, where many pubs and clubs are concentrated.

Twenty-nine people were arrested and there was widespread damage to property. Shop windows were smashed and parked cars were wrecked.

About 200 fans tried to storm Central Station during which a British Transport Police officer was beaten unconscious and his colleague sprayed with CS gas. Police used a portable closed-circuit television system to film trouble at the station.

The police are anxious to clear up the 5 May trouble in advance of the Euro 96 matches involving France, Romania and Bulgaria, to be staged at St James' Park, Newcastle United's ground, which will attract up to 20,000 foreign visitors.

Mr Howard praised the operation which, he said, showed the effectiveness of the CCTV cameras. He said the police were well prepared for possible hooligan trouble when the tournament kicks-off next month.

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