‘A pledge to ‘draw lessons’ is simply not good enough’ – powerful letter from West Derby MP demands action after video and officials expose shameless lies as French government and UEFA ‘cover their backs’
Liverpool MP Ian Byrne has written to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to demand action over the ‘outrageous lies’ of the Macron government and the UEFA football authority, after the French government ministers tried to blame fans for the the lack of organisation and wanton violence of French police at Saturday’s Champions League final.
Women, children, disabled people and asthma sufferers were among those gassed and attacked by French police with a long history of atrocities – and the French regime has continued to blame fans despite abundant video evidence showing unprovoked attacks on law-abiding Liverpool fans:
Byrne’s letter notes the widespread video evidence and the eyewitness accounts of journalists, former players and other officials as well as countless ordinary fans:
To: Foreign Secretary Liz Truss MP
Letter sent by email
Sunday 29 May 2022
Re: Treatment pf Liverpool fans by French police in Paris at the Champions League Final
Dear Foreign Secretary,
I am writing to you following the deeply disturbing treatment of Liverpool fans outside the Stade de France at the Champions League Final in Paris on Saturday evening.
The kick-off at the Stade de France was delayed by 36 minutes and UEFA, European football’s governing body, initially cited the “late arrival” of fans as the reason for this. Perhaps they soon realised that video footage in the public domain proved this was simply not the case and they soon changed their narrative to “fans arriving with fake tickets which did not work”.
Foreign Secretary, I can assure you this is utter nonsense. The French authorities and UEFA are quite simply covering their own backs with this narrative. As a Liverpool fan I was in Paris for the match, and l can honestly say that the situation outside the ground was one of the most horrendous experiences of my life – and as a Hillsborough survivor I do not make this comment lightly.
Liverpool supporters arriving at the ground up to three hours before kick-off were experiencing exceedingly long queues that were not moving forward very quickly, alongside a ludicrously heavy-handed police response to the queuing fans. I have honestly never witnessed such a hostile environment for a football match. It was truly horrific.
There are literally thousands of first-hand accounts by fans who arrived at the Stade de France hours before kick-off only to be indiscriminately pepper-sprayed or tear-gassed by French police. Many elderly people, children, disabled people, asthma sufferers and families out for a day to remember were among those pepper sprayed.
The Guardian newspaper today reports that David Hughes, a Liverpool fan who was at the game, said the shambolic organisation and attempts to blame the fans echoed the Hillsborough disaster in which his father, Eric Hughes, died in April 1989. “The blaming of the fans, that does have echoes. The first thing they do is blame the fans,” he told the Guardian. “They seriously need to have a good took at themselves. You can’t have 20,000 fans coming under two columns under a subway. Unfortunately, we’ve had experience of that in the past and it doesn’t work“
Hughes arrived at the Stade de France with his 17-year-old daughter more than three hours before kick-off and said it was obvious that security officers “couldn’t cope” with the crowds. He also said he was caught up in an “ambush” after the match when local youths threw teargas and spat on Liverpool supporters leaving the stadium.
Lou Brookes, whose brother Andrew died at Hillsborough, said the treatment of fans on Saturday “brought back everything” from the disaster 33 years ago. “It’s just everything that happened at Hillsborough has been mirrored. The police said exactly the same then,” she said.
Foreign Secretary, there is and can be no justification for this appalling treatment of so many people. There are countless first-hand accounts and video clips of what really took place including from many people in official roles and journalists from a wide range of media.
Kelly Simmons, the women’s professional game director at the Football Association, tweeted that she was “crushed on the way in, unable to move for 90 minutes” as she made her way into the ground. She added:
“My legs were like jelly, and I had to keep sitting down in the game. All I could think was we have to get out at the end. All the fans near me in that crush behaved impeccably, calling for calm and no panic.”
The former Liverpool defender Jim Beglin, now a television pundit, tweeted: “Post-match last night was the scariest I’ve ever experienced. Organised gangs set about mugging departing fans. We ran a gauntlet of thuggery on our way to the Metro. Not a police officer in sight. Witnessed so many ambush attacks on unsuspecting attendees. Reprehensible @UEFA.”
Another former Liverpool player, Jason McAteer, reported that his wife and son were among those targeted. He tweeted: “Last night was disgusting. My son was attacked, my wife was mugged – @UEFA very accountable as well as ground stewards and French police.”
Speaking after the game, Liverpool defender Andy Robertson sald he had given a club-issued ticket to a friend who was then denied entry. He said his friend was “told it was a fake, which I assure you it wasn’t. It was a shambles.”
Merseyside Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Chris Green said his officers at the game had reported that “the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner, arriving at turnstiles early and queuing as directed“. A Merseyside Police matchday officer said it was “the worst European match I’ve ever worked or experienced‘”, adding: “I thought the behaviour of the fans at the turnstiles was exemplary in shocking circumstances. You were not late 100%.”
Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson, who was also at the match on Saturday, has criticised the “appalling management and brutal treatment of fans” and has confirmed that she will also be writing to you for answers from UEFA and to urge an investigation from French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Times’ chief football writer Henry Winter, who was at the match, has said it was “a complete mess and it is fortunate that we’re reflecting on the event and not talking about a major disaster“. He said UEFA lied about the late arrival of fans and the Liverpool fans “inside the ground booed it when it was repeated, because they knew it was a lie – they knew that was happening outside. The whole thing was exasperated by what the police were doing – funnelling fans into smaller and smaller areas.” Winter added that “configuration, organisation, poor stewarding and twitchy police were all issues“.
Liverpool supporters group Spirit of Shankly has described the scenes as “totally shambolic and extremely dangerous” and said “the failure rests with UEFA, the French authorities and police. The consequence of such incompetence was the not unusual heavy-handed response from the police and their indiscriminate use of teargas and pepper spray. The French authorities and police also failed to control gangs of local youths before and after the match. Innocent fans were left distraught after they were assaulted, bags pickpocketed, and match tickets stolen. The safety and well-being of our fans is paramount and, in the weeks, leading up to the game, Spirit of Shankly worked closely with LFC, @FSE and @merpol to ensure all that could be done would be done to secure this. It was not. And that collective work was ignored by UEFA and the relevant French authorities.”
UEFA has now said it will “review these matters urgently” with French police. The French sports ministry says it has called a meeting with UEFA, the French Football Association, stadium officials and police on Monday to “draw lessons” from the event.
But Foreign Secretary, a pledge to “draw lessons” is simply not good enough. This should be one of the greatest nights in any football fan’s life and it was nothing short of a disgrace. It really could have ended in severe injury and tragedy and in all honesty, I struggle to see how this kind of situation would be allowed to unfold at a rugby match or a cricket match.
It Is time that the UK Government and all footballing bodies do their Jobs and represent football fans across the country. We are all too often treated as second-class citizens and as animals, not people or paying customers. This must stop and stop now.
Considering the events on Saturday evening, I am writing to ask you to do the following:
1. Demand that UEFA launches a formal investigation into what went wrong and why andInsist that this Is done In co-ordination withMerseyside Police, Liverpool Football Oub and Spirit of Shankly supporters union, which Is recognised as the official Liverpool Supporters Trust.
2. Demand a full and public retraction and apology from UEFA and the French police who initially stated – and published publicly on boards inside the stadium and elsewhere – that Liverpool fans arriving at the stadium late and without tickets were the cause of the delay to kick-off, when this categorically was not the case. Their attempts to immediately control the narrative and blame Liverpool fans are truly shameful and highly reminiscent of what happened In the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough.
3. Luckily, now, In 2022, there is so much video footage and first-hand accounts by fans and journalists present at the game to ensure that this early narrative was quickly challenged. Nonetheless the authorities who attempted to blame the fans must be held accountable and forced to publicly retract and apologise.
4. Many Liverpool fans have described being forced into a terrifying bottleneck and crush whilst queueing to enter the stadium In the hours leading up to kick-off. This must be investigated.
5. There are many accounts by fans and journalists of local French people trying to rush the gates and enter the stadium without tickets and of many Liverpool fans being pick-pocketed before the game and mugged and attacked outside the stadium after the game. This needs to be thoroughly investigated as part of the Inquiry Into the events at the final.
6. French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera tweeted: “The attempts at intrusion and fraud by thousands of English supporters complicated the work of the stadium staff and police but will not tarnish this victory.” The French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has also blamed Liverpool fans. Foreign Secretary I ask that you formally demand an equally public retraction and apology for these outrageous lies from both of these French ministers on behalf of Liverpool fans.
7. Lobby UEFA to demand that no further major European football match be held at the Stade de France again until or unless a full investigation satisfactorily identifies the serious issues in stadium management that occurred on Saturday and actionable plans are drawn up to ensure this can never happen again.
I am copying this letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Nadine Dorries, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Lucy Powell, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotherham, and Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson, for their reference.
I look forward to your response.
Shamefully, it is highly unlikely that the Tory government will put the wellbeing and safety of British people first and actually do anything, as yet again the people of Liverpool suffer while the Establishment seeks to protect itself.
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