Rioting is blamed on media jingoism

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The Independent Online
STEVE BOGGAN and

JAMES CUSICK

England woke up with a familiar hangover yesterday after defeat in the European championships was followed by hooliganism across the nation.

In scenes that most fans had consigned to history, mobs rampaged through cities, towns and villages smashing windows, burning cars and looting shops.

There were attempts by the Prime Minister and the police to put the actions of the few into context with those of the many. But there was a reminder, too from Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, of the xenophobia whipped up by some of the media before Wednesday's match against Germany.

"I hope that last night's scenes will serve to force some elements of the tabloid press to reflect upon the irresponsible attitude they showed in advance of last night's game," he said. The sentiment was echoed by the all- party National Heritage Committee, which asked the Press Complaints Commission to hold an urgent investigation into "jingoistic" tabloid coverage.

The committee said it "has decided to express its disgust at the xenophobic, chauvinistic and jingoistic gutter journalism perpetrated by those newspapers which may well have had its effect in stimulating the deplorable riots following the Germany victory in the semi-final".

Police across the country said trouble broke out within minutes of Gareth Southgate's sudden-death penalty miss. The worst trouble flared in Trafalgar Square in London where up to 2,000 drunken yobs pelted police and passers- by with bottles. Cars were overturned and set alight and shop windows smashed as police in riot gear fought first to contain, then to disperse the hooligans. There were more than 200 arrests, 66 people were injured and 40 vehicles and seven buildings were damaged.

"I don't think by any stretch of the imagination you could call the people who took part in those disturbances genuine football fans," Commander John Purnell, the man in charge of policing Euro 96 in London, said. "Genuine football supporters were the people you saw at Wembley. What we saw in Trafalgar Square were yobs - hooligans bent on destruction and causing trouble."

In Brighton, a 17-year-old Russian was stabbed five times by youths who asked him if he was German. Police, who are treating the incident as attempted murder, said his condition was "serious but stable".

In Bedford, 300 fans rampaged through the town centre, looting shops and smashing windows. Police called in reinforcements from Cambridgeshire, Thames Valley, Hertfordshire and the Metropolitan Police area. There were 33 arrests.

A police officer suffered a head injury when he was hit by a bottle during a disturbance involving several hundred fans in Swindon, Wiltshire, where cars were wrecked and windows smashed. Similar incidents were reported in Birmingham, Bradford, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and Newport and Much Wenlock in Shropshire. In Shirley, in the West Midlands, hooligans hurled bricks through a German-owned Aldi supermarket.

John Major condemned the violence but added: "I think we need to get it in context. They were disgraceful but they were a relatively small number of people compared to the 75,000 people in Wembley and the literally many millions of people who were watching the game on TV."

Immediately after the match, the Prime Minister went to console the England players in their dressing room. It is understood he put his arms round Gareth Southgate and said no one in the country would blame him.

The BBC claimed victory in the Euro 96 ratings war yesterday when early figures suggested it attracted almost three times as many viewers for the game as ITV. Overnight assesments by the Broadcasters Audience Research Board showed an average BBC audience of 17.4 million compared with ITV's 6.2 million. That gave the BBC an audience share of 63.3 per cent, and ITV 22.7 per cent.

t Eleven men appeared at Bow Street magistrates' court, London, yesterday on charges related to the incidents in and around Trafalgar Square. They were granted bail on condition they do not attend any football matches or go near the Charing Cross or central London area.

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