French police accused of ‘criminal assault’ on fans at Stade de France

A new independent inquiry report has found that police actions outside the Champions League Liverpool-Madrid final in May were ‘reckless and dangerous’

The Liverpool-Madrid final was marred by clashes and police aggression outside the Stade de France in May, with a new report finding that police actions constituted ‘criminal assault’
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Police in France have been accused of ‘criminal assault’ in an independent inquiry report into the clashes at the Champions League match at the Stade de France stadium in May this year.

With evaluations of 485 eyewitness accounts of the events, the report investigated clashes outside the stadium, which among other problems, meant the match kick-off had to be postponed by more than 30 minutes. Police arrested 105 people and placed 39 in custody on the day.

It said that Liverpool fans who had come to watch the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid became trapped in bottlenecks set up by the police, who then made extensive use of tear gas.

The report is by Professor Phil Scraton, legal professor at Queen’s University, Belfast. Professor Scraton was also a senior figure on the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which led the inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster that killed 97 supporters in 1989.

Published on October 17, the report reads: “Persistent, random police assaults on fans, and unprovoked deployment of teargas on men, women and children trapped in confined spaces, was reckless and dangerous. It constituted criminal assault.

“At the Stade de France there were egregious failures on all aspects of UEFA’s responsibility for stadium safety. Sustained failure in crowd management severely compromised the health and wellbeing of fans.

“It is clear from fans’ statements that they were put at risk by aggressive policing, ineffectual safety measures, and a failure to implement comprehensive stadium safety management plans based on risk management principles.”

The report also said that “Liverpool fans prevented a fatal tragedy occurring through their collective action…[because they were] grounded in their understanding, and for some direct experience, of the Hillsborough disaster.

“It is difficult to comprehend the sequence of events that constituted the debacle in Paris, leaving so many people physically injured, psychologically harmed, and financially compromised,” Professor Scraton said.

Bottlenecks and no entry

Many fans said that despite arriving hours before the scheduled kick-off, they found themselves queuing for more than two hours with narrow bottlenecks on entry.

Some fans with valid tickets did not manage to get inside the stadium until a few minutes before halftime, and 2,700 Liverpool supporters with valid tickets did not gain entry at all.

Some people resorted to climbing over barriers and fences to gain access, with many of them thought to be opportunist local gangs who wanted to pickpocket supporters, rather than legitimate fans.

In the chaos, police officers at the scene began to fire teargas and pepper spray at some supporters, in an approach that has already been widely criticised in the UK and in France.

‘Ticket fraud’

Initially, French government ministers appeared to blame British Liverpool fans and what they called “an industrial scale” ticket fraud for the issues.

Read more: Champions League final chaos: French minister defends police response

At the time, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that “thousands of British ‘supporters’, without tickets or with false tickets, forced their way in and, sometimes, attacked stewards. Thank you to the numerous police forces mobilised this evening in this difficult context.”

However, faced with opposition, he later conceded: “It is obvious that things could have been better organised. Clearly, this sporting celebration was ruined.”

He said: “The negative image of this match hurts our national pride. We very sincerely regret the at times unacceptable clashes that took place.” He also admitted that some use of teargas had been “disproportionate”, and had “caused great harm, especially to children”.

Mr Darmanin has also called for two officers who broke rules on teargas deployment to be punished.

‘Poor decisions’ and ‘aggressive police tactics’

The new report also appears to corroborate a French Senate report from July, which said that the chaos around the stadium was due to the “[poor] decisions of local authorities”, and said that the event was “an inevitable fiasco”.

Read more: Stade de France chaos an ‘inevitable fiasco’ says French Senate

It said: “It is clear from the evidence that fans were put at risk by aggressive police tactics, ineffective security measures, and the failure to put in place a comprehensive stadium security management plan based on risk assessment principles.”

The Senate report read: “It is unfair to have sought to blame Liverpool supporters for the unrest that occurred, as the Interior Minister did, in order to deflect attention from the failure of the state to properly manage the crowd present."

The match was held in Paris after UEFA barred St Petersburg from holding the event after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

UEFA is set to publish its own report on the incident next month.

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