Policeman apologises for death of football fan

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An Italian policeman accused of killing a football fan on Sunday was placed under formal investigation for manslaughter yesterday. Riots broke out at football grounds across Italy after a highway patrol officer shot Gabriele Sandri, a Lazio fan, at a motorway service station in Tuscany.

As magistrates in Arezzo laid charges against the policeman, it emerged that Italian football could be suspended for weeks if a proposal by the Sports minister, Giovanna Melandri, is adopted by football's governing body. Stewards will also be placed in grounds for the first time, and violent fans barred from away matches.

The worst unrest, seen on television around the world, occurred outside the Olympic Stadium in Rome, where the night game had been cancelled. Fans angry over the killing of Mr Sandri laid siege to a police barracks, injuring 40 officers inside, and vandalised cars, motorcycles and rubbish bins. Four fans were arrested and charged with terrorist offences – the first time such a charge has been used against violent fans. The violence once again thrust the world of Italian football into crisis after the relative calm of a new season in which security measures introduced after the death of a policeman in rioting in Catania appeared to be taking effect. Violent incidents inside grounds are said to be down 80 per cent on last season, though fighting outside – at times and places unknown to the police – still continues between groups of "ultras", as the fanatical fans are called.

The trouble began shortly before 9am at a motorway service station north of Rome. Two cars packed with Lazio fans and one containing Juventus fans met by chance in the car park of the service station. Words were exchanged, then blows and kicks, according to witnesses. The Juventus fans got back into their Mercedes and allegedly tried to run over a Lazio fan who was on foot. The attempt failed, and it seemed that the mini-riot was over practically as soon as it began.

But a highway patrol officer, Luigi Spaccatorella, on the far side of the highway, saw one of the cars heading towards the service station exit at speed. A police statement said the officer fired a warning shot in the air. Then, as he was running towards the footbridge, his gun went off again. "I wasn't aiming at anyone," the officer claimed. "I wasn't aiming at anyone, the gun just went off. I have destroyed two families, that boy's and mine."

Outside the clothing shop run by Mr Sandri's father, a sign read: "Yesterday a dirty bastard killed my son, may he be damned for ever." Mr Sandri was a popular disc jockey in the capital.

The Italian Football Federation met late yesterday to discuss the disturbances and consider the minister's proposal that the entire championship be closed down for some weeks.

Opinion is divided on this step, but other measures now seem sure to be implemented, including a ban on violent fans travelling to away games, and the stationing of stewards in all grounds with a capacity of more than 7,500.

It will be the first time stewards have been seen in Italian stadiums. The killing of a policeman during rioting outside Catania's stadium in Sicily nine months ago led to a tough new regulatory regime for the sport, imposing turnstiles and numbered tickets among other measures.