Police arrest 18 football fans over clash at railway station

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Eighteen suspected soccer hooligans were arrested yesterday on suspicion of being involved in a planned clash between rival fans before a Premiership football game.

Eighteen suspected soccer hooligans were arrested yesterday on suspicion of being involved in a planned clash between rival fans before a Premiership football game.

The men were detained during early morning raids at 22 homes in Hampshire and London by more than 150 officers from British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police, and the Hampshire force. The operation was one of the biggest clampdowns on suspected football hooliganism in recent years.

It follows an investigation into what is believed to be a organised confrontation between Charlton Athletic and Southampton supporters at Maze Hill train station, south east London, on 13 April this year. Passengers cowered as beer bottles were smashed and used as weapons.

The violence erupted shortly before the two sides were due to meet each other at Charlton's Valley stadium. A group of about 15 Southampton fans were involved in a brief but violent clash with 20 Charlton supporters.

By the time police arrived at Maze Hill, the fans had dispersed but inquiries with witnesses and work with footage from surveillance cameras and photographic evidence identified suspects.

Detectives believe the clash was planned by hooligans and deliberately carried out away from the ground to avoid police. As part of yesterday's operation, which began at 5.30am, officers searched for mobile phones and computers that might contain evidence that the fight had been arranged. Police are questioning eight suspects in Southampton and 10 in London.

After the fight, some hooligans posted messages on their internet websites boasting about the clash. One Charlton supporter wrote: "Fair play to the group that got off at Maze Hill. Don't worry about the result. At least you bothered to get off despite knowing there'd be no OB [Old Bill] about."

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Nicholas, of British Transport Police, said football hooliganism had become "more organised and more intense" in the last two years.

He added: "We have devoted increasing resources to policing football fans and have a good record of pre-empting disorder through good intelligence and the timely deployment of officers to escort trains and cover stations.

"But events such as those at Maze Hill, deliberately organised to avoid police detection, do occur and are of growing concern to rail users and train companies. We are determined to do what it takes to crack down on this anti-social behaviour."

Last season, BTP introduced a new 10-point strategy for dealing with football-related violence. Measures include prosecuting anyone involved in trouble and pushing for banning orders from football grounds, with travelling conditions, for convicted fans.