Detainees arrive home to security check

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The Independent Online

A ragged stream of more than 300 England football fans were returned home yesterday, protesting their innocence and accusing the Belgian authorities of brutality.

A ragged stream of more than 300 England football fans were returned home yesterday, protesting their innocence and accusing the Belgian authorities of brutality.

The first batch of 110 supporters arrived at 4.40am on a chartered Hoverspeed Seacat to Folkestone after being escorted by 60 Belgian police to their point of departure. It was unclear whether the group had been formally deported or merely shown the way home.

There was no such doubt, however, about the contingent of 40 fans who touched down at Stansted airport in Essex at 2.45pm on a Belgian Air Force transport plane.

Essex Police drafted in an extra 48 officers to tighten security and help immigration officials process the supporters, many of whom had been wearing handcuffs in Brussels' Grand Place hours earlier. A further 200 fans were expected to have undergone the same process by 8.30pm last night as two Belgian Hercules aircraft shuttled to and from Brussels.

Photographs were taken of every fan but officials were powerless to stop them travelling straight back to Belgium.

Some of those emerging at Stansted complained of heavy-handed and indiscriminate tactics allegedly employed by the Belgian riot squads.

Craig Harston, a floor layer from Roehampton, south-west London, said he was arrested just 30 minutes after his arrival in Brussels. "I walked out of the train station and straight into a pub. Half an hour later, I was under arrest. How could I have done anything wrong? I didn't have time," he said.

"I'm vegetarian so I didn't eat for 36 hours because the Belgian police didn't have any vegetarian food. It was like a refugee camp."

In the meantime, other England supporters arrived back in Britain of their own free will.

Some blamed the usual suspects for the disturbances - Turkish youths, Moroccans and police intent on beating Englishmen. Others, however, said they'd had what increasingly sounds like a rare Euro 2000 experience - a good time.

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