Fans say: `We were picked on by police'

World Cup violence: More arrests in Marseilles as England get off to winning start
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The Independent Online
"THE TROUBLE is that the police simply pick on us," said John as he sipped a beer yesterday lunchtime after being caught up in the violence in Marseilles the night before.

"They point their guns at us yet they let the Tunisians get away with everything. That is what happened yesterday. The Tunisians had been winding us up since 10am, so it's no wonder that we got irritated.''

His friend Steve, 29, from Tilbury, Essex, who was also in the centre of the city on Sunday night when rioting erupted, added: "Another problem is that England supporters have a reputation and everyone wants to have a pop at us. If this game was between Tunisia and South Africa there would have been no problem."

Most observers agreed there was a degree of provocation which led to the violence on Sunday, but British police sources suggested much of the blame had to lie with the few hundred English supporters involved.

"These are people who follow England wherever they go and get drunk all day and then get involved in whatever happens at night," said one security source. "The people involved last night were very, very drunk - they were just ordinary drunk yobs."

The National Criminal Intelligence Service's football unit, which has more than a dozen specialist "spotters" in Marseilles, admitted there was a level of organisation to the violence, albeit small scale. A number of ringleaders were seen encouraging others to get involved, while others were making calls on mobile phones.

"They call to let each other know where violence is happening in the city," said an NCIS spokesman.

A senior British police officer yesterday pleaded with the French courts to lock up any English fans convicted of violent behaviour in Marseilles. "That's the right message to send to these people," said Assistant Chief Constable Tim Hollis, who heads the English police presence in France.

"We know they don't like being locked in foreign jails. They should be imprisoned, at least until the World Cup ends."

The relatively gentle treatment given to English and Scots fans arrested in Calais and Paris was "worrying", he said. While respecting the independence of the French courts, he and his colleagues had stressed to French authorities the need for a "strong message" to England fans.

Mr Hollis, of South Yorkshire Police, said it was "disturbing" that the great majority of the fans arrested in Marseilles were not known soccer trouble-makers. He admitted that this had handicapped the joint French- English operation, based on a system of undercover English police spotters following and identifying the likely hooligans.

It was "undeniable" English fans started the trouble on Sunday, said Mr Hollis, but it seemed that, at most, 200 out of an estimated 20,000 English supporters were involved.

Chief Superintendent Eddie Curtis, head of the British undercover operation, said yesterday that of the 27 English fans arrested, six were category C supporters - whose primary interest in travelling to matches is to cause trouble. Eight of the 27 were last night due to appear before a magistrate in Marseilles charged with a variety of disorder offences.

Ch Supt Curtis said: "There were about 400 English people all under the influence of drink, being directed by certain people we know. It's very easy to co-ordinate undisciplined people in violence . Perhaps about 400 ought to have been arrested, but unless you have 4,000 police it is very difficult."

According to a British Embassy spokesman in Marseilles, four English fans remained in hospital with broken limbs. Another two with knife wounds, including one who had his neck slashed, had been released from hospital after surgery.

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