Hooligan 'hotline' set up to tackle football violence

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The Independent Online
Police will deploy special surveillance officers and operate a telephone "hotline" as part of their effort to prevent football hooligans sabotaging the European Championships in England next summer.

Intelligence gathering will play a key role, as will a "hooligan hotline" to encourage genuine fans to supply information on thugs. Police forces from countries whose national teams qualify will be invited to send "spotters" who will point out known foreign troublemakers. In Britain, police intelligence officers are co-ordinating efforts to identify "kingpin" hooligans who organise violence.

The launch of the hotline was warmly welcomed by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.

Referring to the violence which forced the abandonment of February's England versus Republic of Ireland friendly in Dublin, Mr Howard said: "Following the incidents of disorder last season it is important that the game receives coverage for all the right reasons. Genuine fans can help to make this possible and I urge them to do so by making use of the hotline."

The National Criminal Intelligence Service, co-ordinating police efforts at the championships, said that 18 months of planning involving the Football Association, Home Office, Foreign Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and individual police forces had already been undertaken.

Detective Superintendent Larry Covington, head of NCIS's strategic and specialist intelligence branch, said foreign liaison was an important branch of the organisation.

"We are already in liaison with foreign law-enforcement officers to ensure we have good information on those hooligans from foreign countries, some of which have similar problems to the UK," he said.

The head of the football unit, Detective Inspector Peter Chapman, said stewarding and all-seater stadiums had cut violence, but there was still a hard core causing trouble away from grounds. "Although we have successfully reduced hooliganism within football grounds in the last few years, a small number of high-profile incidents of disorder last season illustrate that the problem remains. Small hardcore gangs continue to orchestrate violence between rival fans and against the police."

The hotline - on freephone 0800 515 495 - is staffed 24 hours a day and will be promoted by a hard-hitting poster.

Mr Chapman added: "Figures for the 1994-95 season suggest that the number of arrests in league games has been reduced where stewarding has replaced policing at grounds.

"The arrest figures confirm that closed-circuit television, all-seater grounds and improvements in the stewarding and policing of games are all helping to effectively combat the hooligan problem."

nA national campaign to highlight the dangers of rail track vandals was launched yesterday. It came only hours after a passenger train crashed into a pick-up truck which thieves had dumped and set alight across a main line at Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. No one was hurt in that incident.

The anti-vandal campaign is aimed primarily at rail employees and safety managers, but it is hoped it will be taken in by the judiciary, town planners and community groups. It features the video, I Used to be a Vandal and shows real-life action sequences such as the arrest of a trespasser.