Law caught in its own offside trap

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The Independent Online
AN AUDACIOUS plan by 50 Manchester United football supporters to infiltrate rival supporters' seating for tomorrow's big match against Milan was doomed from the outset. The fact that they were based at Greater Manchester Police headquarters sealed their fate.

The desperate officers decided to go undercover after legitimate attempts to watch the Champions' Cup quarter-final with Internazionale were rebuffed.

They tried, without success, to get 50 seats together for the first match, at Old Trafford 12 days ago. Efforts to get seats in the United end tomorrow at the San Siro stadium encountered the same problem.

So the police officers, including riot and siege veterans, contacted Inter with an "any-chance-of-50-tickets-money-up-front" offer. The Italians promptly informed their senior officers back at Chester House.

"As soon as we received the information, the application was withdrawn," a police spokeswoman said. This is hardly surprising, since Greater Manchester Police has insisted on strict segregation of United and Inter supporters - off-duty police included.

Uefa, European football's governing body, stopped the sale to British tour operators of tickets in sections of the stadium earmarked for Inter supporters, and security fears have been heightened by circulation of up to 6,000 forgeries.

Exactly how four Transit van loads of Manchester police officers planned to go incognito to Milan is unclear. Police social club sources speak of 50 "genuine" Armani sweat shirts bought from a snout in a Swinton pub, plus rigorous practice of San Siro vernacular - "Torta di bistecca e patate e brodo di manzo, per favore carissima" ("meat and tatty pie and a Bovril, please darling").

"This wasn't an appropriate activity for Greater Manchester Police," the spokeswoman said. "But it is not seen as a disciplinary matter. We should emphasise that there was no official request for tickets by Greater Manchester Police - an individual acted on their own initiative to try to obtain tickets on behalf of the social club."

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