Police commissioner condemns ‘mindless idiots’ who smashed up Italian restaurant after England defeat

Commissioners raise concerns about ‘wider issue with culture around football’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 16 July 2021 02:30
Scuffle appears to break out between paying fans and ticketless at Wembley

A police commissioner has condemned vandalism by “completely mindless idiots” over the Euro 2020 final.

Amid focus on disorder at Wembley stadium Marc Jones, the chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), said disorder had spread to small towns across the country.

He said that in Sleaford, one of Lincolnshire’s “safest, loveliest towns”, an Italian restaurant was targeted following England’s loss in the final.

“The entire seating area outside was smashed to pieces,” Mr Jones told a press conference on Thursday. “Completely mindless idiots - they were smashing up the only Italian restaurant in their town. How do you deal with people who think that is ok?”

Mr Jones said it appeared that “something just switches” for normally law-abiding people during major football matches, and urged communities to hold them to account.

He urged: “You really need to get people and be very public saying ‘these are who the people are who did this thing’. Let their friends, family, employers, colleagues see who they are.”

Police forces are still collating incidents where Italian people were targeted over the match, which ended the worst football tournament on record for crime.

Cheshire Constabulary chief constable Mark Roberts, who is the national lead for football policing, previously told The Independentthere had been “random attacks on Italians”.

“We haven’t seen massive numbers but there have been far too many,” he added.

“We do see these incidents when England get knocked out of tournaments in terms of the targeting of foreign nationals.”

Several fans who spoke to The Independentreported hearing xenophobic abuse targeting Italians inside Wembley stadium, including a man who was branded a “traitor” by an England supporter for letting an Italian fan put rubbish in a bin.

More than 2,300 police incidents linked to the Euros have so far been recorded, including stabbings, glassings, fights and assaults on police officers. At least 630 people have been arrested so far in England and Wales.

Festus Akinbusoye, the Conservative PCC for Bedfordshire, said the disorder at Wembley and elsewhere pointed to a “wider issue with culture around football”.

“Rather than focusing on policing I would like us to discuss the culture of football that attracts this kind of mindless destructive vandalism,” he added.

A fan throws a decorative tree which has been uprooted from Leicester Square

Kim McGuinness, the Labour PCC for Northumbria, said she was “not surprised that questions are being asked” about how large numbers of ticketless fans were able to force, bribe and sneak their way into Wembley stadium.

“We need to listen to what comes out of [an official Football Association] review for policing, private security and fan behaviour,” she added.

Wembley stadium authorities hire private security and stewards for matches, and the Metropolitan Police is responsible for surrounding public areas.

Senior officers suggested they were surprised by the “unprecedented” number of ticketless fans who descended on Wembley before Sunday’s historic match, but it has since emerged that people were organising plans to get in without tickets publicly on social media for several days before.

Police are also investigating racist social media posts targeting England football players following the match.

The government has announced that it will extend Football Banning Orders so online abusers can be banned from stadiums for up to 10 years.

Mr Akinbusoye, who is the first black PCC elected since commissioners were introduced in 2012, said: “A lot of the problem is happening online, so I’m not sure banning them from football matches is going to solve the problem.

“We’ve got to deal with the attitude of the people who are doing this.”

Mr Akinbusoye added: “When that penalty shoot-out ended my 12-year-old son said to me ‘do you know what’s going to happen next?’. He said ‘all the black players missed penalties and all the white players made them, they are going to be slaughtered’. I couldn’t say to him he was wrong.”

Following criticism of Priti Patel for accusing England players of “gesture politics” for taking the knee, and refusing to condemn fans who booed them for it, he said senior politicians “should not encourage people to boo anyone in those kind of circumstances”.

On Thursday, the UK Football Policing Unit said a dedicated team was “working through a significant number of reports of racist abuse targeting England players on social media following the Euro 2020 final”.

Five people have been arrested so far and further arrests are expected as police continue investigations and receive data from social media companies.