Tougher powers to thwart hooligans

World Cup: Home Secretary rushes through fresh restrictions on the movement of troublemakers
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TOUGHER POLICE powers to crack down on football hooligans are being rushed through the Commons and could become law in time to hit troublemakers when they return to Britain from the World Cup.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw will today table two key amendments to the Government's Crime and Disorder Bill to give the police new powers of arrest and to increase the penalty for breaking a restriction order from one month to six months in prison.

The tighter restrictions were proposed by the Conservatives and accepted by Mr Straw in private talks. The new laws, which could be enacted in time for the latter stages of the World Cup, will allow the police for the first time to arrest anyone suspected of breaking a restriction order.

The move follows growing concern among police at being powerless to stop hooligans travelling to France, although they were known offenders under restriction orders.

Mr Straw wrote to magistrates last December urging them to use restriction orders - under which offenders have to report to a police station during a match - on all those convicted of football-related violence.

It emerged last night that the tournament organisers have ordered perimeter fences to be erected around the pitch at Toulouse for Monday's match. The decision was made following last weekend's disturbances in Marseilles.

The barriers have largely disappeared in the United Kingdom since the Hillsborough tragedy, when many fans died after being crushed against fences, and their reintroduction will inevitably raise concerns over safety.

Lawyers warned yesterday that while it might be possible in some cases for employers to heed Tony Blair's advice to sack convicted hooligans, others could be faced with financial penalties for unfair dismissal.

Companies are on reasonably safe ground if they sack employees who have worked for them for less than two years and do not have the full protection of the law. Even for those cases, however, businesses should follow their own disciplinary procedures, lawyers said.

An employer would have a strong case for dismissal where it was well known that a worker who dealt with the public was a convicted thug, particularly in jobs such as teaching, the probation service or police force. But where the offender was a "backroom boy", it would be far more difficult to prove fairness. An employer would have to show the image of the organisation might be tarnished, or that the offenders' ability to do the job had been undermined by deteriorating relationships with other staff.

Those in the line of fire who were arrested after clashes in Marseilles during the England-Tunisia game include a Nuneaton railway employee and two postal workers. The RMT rail union said that it would represent any member who thought they were being unfairly dismissed, while the Communication Workers' Union preferred not to comment.