Convicted fire-fighter 'just stuck out in crowd' at football riot

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The Independent Online

Flags of St George hung in all the windows of Garry Mann's local pub yesterday. Inside, they were gearing up for the big game. But while his fellow drinkers were watching England's match against Switzerland last night, Mann was beginning a two-year jail sentence in Portugal for his part in this week's riot in Albufeira.

Flags of St George hung in all the windows of Garry Mann's local pub yesterday. Inside, they were gearing up for the big game. But while his fellow drinkers were watching England's match against Switzerland last night, Mann was beginning a two-year jail sentence in Portugal for his part in this week's riot in Albufeira.

Mann has become the pugnacious face of the unacceptable side of England mania this summer. He had travelled to the Algarve with at least 10 other regulars from the Railway Hotel in Faversham, part of a much larger contingent, mainly Gillingham supporters, travelling from Kent.

"How can he be the ringleader?'' asked a friend of Mann as he glanced up at one of the pub's numerous television sets. "He was a firefighter for God's sake; these guys are the best.

"And if he was the ringleader, why haven't any of the Faversham lads been nicked?'' As if to explain he pointed at yet another St George Cross, this time bearing the town's name: "He was Faversham.''

Family and friends of Mann, a firefighter with 26 years' service, believe he is the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and crucially, with his shaven head and muscular fireman's build, simply sticking out in a crowd. At 46, they add, he was also considerably older than those around him.

On Wednesday night Mann was sentenced to two years in jail by a Portuguese court for orchestrating violence outside La Bamba bar in the Algarve resort of Albufeira. He was among 12 English men convicted in a late-night sitting of the court but the only one to be jailed. Yesterday the 11 disgraced fans were expected to be deported.

Another 33 supporters, accused over a second night of rioting at the bar, voluntarily agreed to leave the country yesterday and were banned from returning for one year after prosecutors offered no evidence against them.

Mann, who was found guilty of throwing bottles and urging others to riot, was vilified in yesterday's newspapers. His sunburnt face adorned yesterday's Sun front page beneath the headline "Sad losers". His picture bore the legend "plankton''. The Daily Mirror described the actions of the rioters as "the shame of England".

One source close to the anti-hooligan operation in Portugal said none of the 12 convicted on Wednesday were known hooligans. "I'm not particularly exercised about these people. People who go to Albufeira represent a cross-section of society. But these are yobs rather than part of an organised criminal element,'' the senior source said.

The presence of the son of an Oxford academic, the grandson of a police chief and a catering firm boss prompted headlines decrying the actions of "middle-class yobs''.

The family of Mr Mann, a twice divorced father of four, insist he is wholly innocent. He phoned his mother at her home in Birmingham immediately after his arrest.

The family claims to have a video proving his innocence. His sister-in-law, Bernadette Mann, told reporters yesterday: "Garry's in bits. He's innocent. He wasn't even in the area when the trouble broke out. He's not been able to speak to anyone.''

Mann had travelled to the Algarve with his brother Mark, who claims to have the video placing them in a different bar to where the trouble happened.

Mann may have to wait several months before he is returned to the UK to complete his two-year sentence. The repatriation will be done under the Council of Europe's convention on the transfer of prisoners.

It is almost certain that he will lose his job with Kent fire service and with it the detached home he shares with his girlfriend, Suzanne Baker, and her children on an estate of firefighters' cottages next to Faversham fire station. He could also lose pension rights built up over nearly three decades of service.

A spokesman for Kent fire service said his case was being considered under guidelines laid down under Home Office regulations.

"As you would expect, we take a very serious view in relation to the behaviour of our employees whether on or off duty," the spokesman said. " We are considering very carefully the best way to deal with this matter.'

Mann grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham and remains loyal to the local club of his youth. It is a deep-rooted passion. At his childhood home in the Bordesley Green area of the city, a cartoon sticker in the window shows a Birmingham City supporter urinating on an Aston Villa shirt.

But there is no suggestion that Mann is part of Birmingham City's notorious hooligan gang known as the Zulu Army and he was not on a list of supporters from the West Midlands banned from attending this summer's tournament. His entry on the Friends Reunited website provides an innocent story. His former schoolmates at Dudderston Manor School noted that he had moved down south: "Still following the Blues. Unfortunately not grown up yet.''

Kevin Miles of the Football Supporters Federation said he was not a genuine fan, 40,000 of whom had packed into the stadium in Lisbon for Sunday night's match against France while a further 7,000 watched on the city's big screen. "These 12 were not matchgoing fans; only two had tickets or had been near a match venue,'' Mr Miles said. "These people simply come to the country because there is a tournament; they are not real fans.''

Mann would almost certainly disagree with that assessment. Friends said that he was extremely proud of the St George Cross which he had tattooed on his forearm.

And when he is released from jail at the Railway Hotel, at least, he will be assured a friendly reception. Another friend said: "If your house was on fire and he arrived to put it out they wouldn't be calling him a thug then.''

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