Straw in move to tackle World Cup hooligans

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The Independent Online
Football supporters and police yesterday cast doubts on plans by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to prevent convicted soccer hooligans going to this summer's World Cup finals. Louise Jury checks out the criticisms.

The Football Supporters' Association yesterday warned that Jack Straw's proposals to crack down on football violence were unworkable and did not tackle the root of the problem.

Mr Straw is writing to the Crown Prosecution Service and all courts to encourage them to place restriction orders on offenders in an attempt to limit violence at the tournament in France. Under the Football Spectators Act, people convicted of soccer-related offences can be made subject to an order which prevents them from travelling abroad to matches involving England and Wales.

They must report to a police station at the time the game is taking place and can be prosecuted if they do not comply.

But Alison Pilling, of the Football Supporters' Association, said this would not help because it would only apply to people convicted between now and the World Cup finals, not to people who already have convictions. "It is not really going to have much effect as a measure against hooligans and ... I think it is going to prove unworkable." The real problem, she added, was how the tournament was organised. "The police need to be taught how to deal with the problem of a small group of hooligans when the vast majority of fans in the ground are being well-behaved.

"As we saw in Rome, the problem was really bad organisation before the game and the Italian police being very heavy-handed because they did not know how to deal with a small group of troublemakers."

Detective Inspector Peter Chapman, who heads the National Criminal Intelligence Service's hooliganism unit at Scotland Yard, also questioned the usefulness of restriction orders, which have been used only 10 times since 1989.

He told BBC Radio4's The World At One that the legislation contained an "anomaly" because the police could not arrest a convicted hooligan until he failed to report to police at an appointed time. He gave the example of someone obliged to report at 4pm on Saturday. "The nonsense of it is I can see that individual pass through Heathrow five or six hours earlier, knowing full well he is going to that particular football match and can't do anything about it. I don't have the power to stop him."

Tony Banks, the sports minister, speaking on Radio 4's Today programme said he was aware that some hooligans were not "mindless morons" but "very calculating, professional-type people with jobs, whose game is violence, but who are using football as the vehicle for violence". But he said the courts had shown themselves "remarkably reluctant" to impose restriction orders, which was why the Home Secretary was issuing the reminder.