Police ban fans from World Cup qualifier

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The Independent Online

More than 450 suspected and convicted football hooligans have been banned from travelling to England's crucial World Cup qualifying game in Greece today after they had their passports confiscated.

More than 450 suspected and convicted football hooligans have been banned from travelling to England's crucial World Cup qualifying game in Greece today after they had their passports confiscated.

Under new laws to curb soccer violence, the police are able to apply for banning orders from magistrates against anyone they believe is likely to cause trouble as well as people already convicted of offences. Breaching the order is an arrestable offence carrying a possible six-month jail sentence and a £5,000 fine. The restrictions can last up to 10 years.

In the first widespread use of new powers under the Football Disorder Act, 454 fans have been sent letters ordering them to hand in their passports at police stations. The Act was introduced after England fans were involved in a series of violent clashes in Belgium during Euro 2000.

But John Wadham, director of the civil rights organisation Liberty, criticised the banning orders and argued that they were a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. He said: "In restricting freedom of movement, the travel ban departs from obligations to protect the liberty and security of the individual, and to ensure freedom of movement, expression and association, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, and under EC law."

Of the 454 people banned, 44 have criminal records for violence or disorder, although not connected to football, 51 have outstanding international banning orders dating from between 1998 and 2000, and 34 are prevented from travelling under pre-1998 laws. The remaining 325 have been convicted of football-related offences since August 2000.

Bans can be imposed even if suspects have no convictions for football violence so long as police can persuade a magistrate that an order would help prevent future disorder.

A spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the agency that co- ordinated the action against football hooliganism, said: "This is a wonderful opportunity to show the world that England fans can be well-behaved abroad. These pests must not be allowed to ruin the game for everyone else."

Large numbers of England fans have flown to Greece in the past few days on flights from Britain and police security was tight around Athens city centre.

Police spotters and intelligence officers will be in the capital today to identify known hooligans to the Greek authorities and to collect evidence for possible future banning orders.

A section of the 74,000- capacity Olympic Stadium, which is expected to be little more than half-full, is being reserved for England fans turning up on the day without tickets. The sale of tickets on the day has been criticised in the past because it allows in troublemakers who travel under false identity.

Some 30,000 to 40,000 tickets have been sold, of which 3,800 have gone to supporters who have travelled with the England Members Club, which is being disbanded after this match. Part of the stadium will be reserved for England fans turning up on the day, with 2,000 to 3,000 tickets available.

Paul Newman, head of communications at the Football Association, said having tickets available on the day was "an excellent idea" because people on holiday on surrounding islands may want to see the match.