Court frees English fan jailed at Euro 2000

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The Independent Online

The only English football fan to be brought before the Belgian courts for violence at the Euro 2000 championship was freed on bail yesterday.

The only English football fan to be brought before the Belgian courts for violence at the Euro 2000 championship was freed on bail yesterday.

Mark Forrester, from Birmingham, has served nearly one month of a one-year jail term, six months of which was suspended, after being found guilty of assaulting police in Brussels on the eve of the England v Germany game in Charleroi.

He was accused at his trial of being "very provocative and very aggressive" in orchestrating three outbreaks of violence. But Forrester, 33, who travelled to the tournament with his 53-year-old father and six friends, says he was not in the Belgian capital at the time of two of the incidents and was in a restaurant during the third.

Forrester, a company manager, was ushered into the Belgian Appeal Court yesterday by eight armed police officers to hear a judge agree to allow more time to gather defence evidence. As he was led away in handcuffs, his defence lawyer, Jan Fermon, objected and insisted that his client be freed until a full hearing in November or December. The court then released him on bail.

Forrester's father, Carl, said afterwards: "I am very relieved. If there is any justice in Belgium my son will be cleared."

Forrester was among scores of England fans rounded up by police when violence erupted in Brussels. Unlike the others, who were deported, Forrester, who is married with a child aged two and a half, was charged with assault and put in prison.

At his trial on 23 June a judge insisted there was "clear and detailed" evidence he had been a ringleader who had urged others on during street riots.

But the only evidence came from a police "hooligan spotter", with no defence evidence permitted under new Belgian "fast track" court procedures.

Yesterday the advocate general of the appeal court, Yves Brauwers, said: "I believe there are still elements to be checked."

Carl Forrester said outside the court that he was denied the chance to give evidence on his son's behalf in the original trial. He said the eight-strong group travelling in two cars were still in Ostend at the time of the first alleged incident in Brussels.

During the second, later the same afternoon, they were in a café next door to their hotel outside the city centre. Later in the evening, when trouble broke out between rival gangs outside a pub, they were in a restaurant across the street.

"My son has already lost his job and with it his company car because of this case. I have asked his employers about the possibility of getting his job back after the appeal, but Mark has already said he is not interested," he said.

Police singled out Forrester as having punched and kicked riot police, moving behind police lines out of danger when trouble subsequently erupted.

Police will now be instructed to study video evidence from closed-circuit TV cameras and interview witnesses, including Forrester's father and friends.