Lens police caught out as thugs beat alcohol ban

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The Independent Online
THE SPECTRE of British soccer hooligans running amok in France was the nightmare that haunted the police and football authorities during the years of planning for the tournament.

But despite vast amounts of intelligence, police power and good intent, drunken English thugs were making the headlines yet again last night.

The trouble yesterday and on Thursday appeared once again to be caused by a combination of excessive alcohol and a small group of English thugs thirsty for violence.

The huge scale of the English invasion - 30,000 fans converged on the small town of Lens - also appears to have caught out the authorities.

A 24-hour alcohol ban on the town to prevent supporters becoming intoxicated proved wildly optimistic. Fans merely stocked up before the match.

Questions were being asked why British National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) spotters and the French police did not predict and prevent a repeat of last week's violent scenes in Marseilles. Failure to stop the violence and unruly behaviour must have dented Britain's chances of hosting the tournament in 2006.

Intelligence sources insisted that the authorities had learnt from the previous games, with about 150 drunk fans being plucked from the Eurostar in Waterloo station yesterday and dozens of similarly inebriated men stopped from taking ferries or crossing the Belgium border.

But it was clear from the England fans seen drinking on the streets of Lens, in the main square and around the stadium that the alcohol ban had failed.

Rex Nash, of the Research Unit at Liverpool University, argued that no police operation, bar a complete ban on travelling, could have prevented trouble. "You have to look at it in wider terms," he said. "It is linked to the British phenomena of drinking to excess. You just have to look at the men who were chucking rocks while wearing Sun hats to realise that it is a cultural thing - it is not just about football.

"NCIS and all the other countries can provide as much intelligence as they like, but the majority of it is to do with the British attitude to drink."

The British courts have only just started to use their powers to impose restriction orders on convicted hooligans, but only 70 thugs were prevented from going to the World Cup. That leaves hundreds of other men, determined to cause mayhem, able to travel across the Channel. Intelligence officers in France have also noted that some people went to the tournament spoiling for a fight.