Undercover operation targets football bigots

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL HOOLIGANS who use racist chants and abuse against black players are being targeted by undercover police officers. The Metropolitan Police has carried out the first two successful operations against racist "supporters" in which dozens of officers were used secretly to record and photograph offensive chanting.

The initiative comes as the Home Office will announce proposals today for stiffer penalties against racists and hooligans at football matches. A stricter vetting programme to try to stop hooligans following the England team abroad was unveiled by the Football Association.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service has warned about a disturbing trend of football-related violence in and around grounds this year. The NCIS said officers were worried by the number of hooligan incidents this season. A dossier of 22 outbreaks of violence includes details of a battle between 200 fans from Manchester United and Coventry City on a train in September.

Incidents this season included a CS spray attack in a pub on Norwich fans by Birmingham supporters and a disturbance on a London-to- Sheffield train last weekend.

Bryan Drew, head of the NCIS strategic and specialist intelligence branch, said: "Although it is too early to say whether the overall downward trend for football-related arrest figures over the past five years is being reversed, the signs are not encouraging."

Sir Paul Condon, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, yesterday showed film of two undercover operations against racist chanting, both involving followers of Millwall Football Club in south London.

In the most recent operation, in September, five men aged 19 to 42 where recorded making monkey noises and chanting racist obscenities by an undercover police officer. The "fans" were also filmed. Sir Paul said the investigation, known as Operation Den, was intended to make racist hooligans afraid that the police could be recording them at any match. He described their behaviour as "despicable and offensive".

Under the Home Office proposed clampdown on hooligans, measures expected to be announced today include making the chanting of racist abuse by an individual fan a criminal offence, stiffer fines,tougher exclusion orders to bar known troublemakers from matches in this country and new curbs to stop the sale by touts of tickets to matches overseas.

The Football Association said yesterday that the 35,000 fans who belong to the England Members' Club will be checked for all convictions for violence or public order offences committed anywhere in the world. Sir Brian Hayes, FA security consultant, said: "Although an enormous majority of our 37,000 members are responsible and can be trusted to give us a good reputation abroad, there is a sprinkling of people who have managed to get membership who do cause trouble and should not be members."