Hooligan 'hijacked' disabled child in Wembley Euro 2020 final 'war zone'

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Report into riot at Wembley Stadium during European Championship final - Lee Smith/Reuters/Action Images
Report into riot at Wembley Stadium during European Championship final - Lee Smith/Reuters/Action Images

The most radical overhaul of football security since Hillsborough was launched after a landmark review revealed the full horror of a “war zone” at the Euro 2020 final.

In a 129-page report warning that lives could be lost unless action was taken, Baroness Casey said that the Wembley authorities’ collective failure to foresee the danger had led to a “medieval siege”.

Thousands of thugs, many high on cocaine, ensured the biggest football match in Britain in 55 years became “a source of national shame”, her report found.

Fans without tickets plunged to the lowest depths to get into the stadium, including one abducting a boy in a wheelchair in an attempt to evade stewards. The father of the child told the review: “He’s then taken [my son’s] wheelchair and pushed it towards the door... Just as we got to the door we twigged what was going on and it turned out he’s just an England fan in a high-viz jacket that was literally hijacking a wheelchair to get into the stadium.”

Women, children and relatives of England players also told Casey how they were left in fear of their lives as hooligans rampaged.

With the Metropolitan Police facing criticism for launching its full operation six hours too late, Casey admitted it had been fortunate there were no fatalities. The Football Association on Friday night promised a “ring of steel” around future high-risk Wembley matches.

“The events at Hillsborough in 1989 have weighed heavily on my mind,” Casey wrote, adding: “Some of what happened was sadly foreseeable, even if the scale of it was not.”

As a result, the crossbench peer told the Government it should “consider strengthening the penalties for football-related disorder, particularly behaviours which recklessly endanger lives”.

In the wake of the deadly events of April 15, 1989, Lord Justice Taylor’s report led to improved safety measures, including standing terraces being replaced with all-seater stadia.

In an updated statement on Saturday, Casey said she wished to make clear "that in mentioning the tragedy at Hillsborough in the context of my report into the Euro 2020 Final at Wembley, I was not in any way suggesting the fans at Hillsborough were to blame, but that there was still a severe crowd safety risk at a major football match 31 years after Hillsborough; that there is a need to protect all genuine and law-abiding football fans; and that there can be no room for complacency in how we respond to these events".

She added: "I do regret that it was not possible to get all these important points across in every media interview. I pay tribute to the long campaign for truth and justice that has been run by Hillsborough survivors and victims’ families. And I offer my deepest sympathies as always for what happened to Liverpool fans that day and what they have been through since."

Casey issued her demands for improvements after her FA-commissioned independent review found that:

  • An absence of risk assessment amounted to a “collective failure” by authorities.

  • 2,000 ticketless fans stormed Wembley via 17 entry points, only 400 were ejected, and 6,000 more were waiting outside to enter when doors opened at the final whistle.

  • Unprecedented levels of drunkenness were reported by 9am, six hours before the start of the main police operation.

  • Thousands of respondents to a fan survey saw drug-taking in and around the ground before and during the match.

Ticketless fans preyed on disabled supporters

Casey's report included shocking witness testimonies of a day described by one council official to senior colleagues as "like a medieval siege".

Disabled fans were particularly badly affected, she added. "Disturbingly, it is clear that ticketless fans targeted disabled supporters in a predatory fashion near the turnstiles," she writes.

"In one appalling incident, a ticketless fan tried to impersonate a steward and hijack a disabled child and separated him from his father, in order to trick his way through a pass gate," the report found.

The father of the child told the review: “He’s then taken [my son’s] wheelchair and pushed it towards the door...Just as we got to the door we twigged what was going on and it turned out he’s just an England fan in a high-viz jacket that was literally hijacking a wheelchair to get into the stadium."

One female interviewee added that '"it was like a war zone, never seen anything like it".

"I witnessed bottles and cans being thrown at people, children cowering behind parents to hide, trees being ripped up and thrown, climbing on roofs and throwing things into the crowds," another fan said.

Drunk and drugged fans caused alarm at 9am

The investigation reveals that the alarm had been raised as early as 9.02am, when one council official alerted colleagues, FA and Wembley managers, the police and other local partners via WhatsApp: "Talking to fans... none with tickets, just here for the occasion. Might be a big feature of the day."

By midday, an estimated 10,000 fans had already arrived in the Wembley area. Transport staff were staggered by the levels of drunken behaviour.

"I've been doing this for over a decade and have worked on various other celebratory events, including New Year’s Eve. I have never seen drunkenness like this so early on in the day," one London Underground official said.

“I remember walking into the control room about nine o'clock, and there were England fans drinking as I walked in. And it was really, really early on and the alcohol was flowing. And I thought, 'This is going to be a hard day'. I felt it was going to be really challenging."

Report hears of 'children cowering behind parents'

As part of the review, a survey of misbehaviour among fans "suggests illegal-drug taking must have been widespread and taken place in plain sight".

"More than 3,500 respondents (47 per cent) said they saw illegal drug-taking when they arrived at Wembley," the report found.

One review respondent said it was "like a warzone, never seen anything like it. Vandalism, yob behaviour, broken glass, glass being thrown, highly drunk people, very horrible atmosphere for a lone female. Police barely seen."

Another added: "I witnessed bottles and cans being thrown at people, children cowering behind parents to hide, trees being ripped up and thrown, climbing on roofs and throwing things into the crowds."

Amid the chaos, staff were forced to stop checking Covid tests for around 40 minutes. The report found the Met Police had seen this problem coming, having "raised concerns about Covid-19 checks creating a risk of public order problems with the Wembley Safety Advisory Group ahead of the final".

Baroness Casey added that it was "difficult not to conclude that the events of 11 July, while clearly appalling, could very easily have been far worse, leading to serious injuries or even fatalities".

'I was scared for my life'

After England's defeat on penalties to Italy, Bukayo Saka was among players to face racist abuse by fans in the stands, which "mirrored" attacks on social media, the report added.

"Sadly and predictably, there was some racist abuse after the penalty shootout – although around me people quickly called it out and the abuse stopped almost immediately," said one survey respondent.

Families of England players also told how they feared for their lives after being caught in the middle of rampaging hooligans at Gate G, where the fire door had been "destroyed".

"All of a sudden there was a rush from behind people trying to get through," said the partner of one player. "Another person just pulled me out and asked me to get behind him in the queue. I was with my son and we were in bits, I was scared for my life."

"There was a wave of bodies just flung to the floor, including a young lad in a wheelchair. It was terrifying; disgraceful," a father of another player added.

The report also cited uncertainty about whether Wembley would host the final as a potential factor while capacity was reduced to 40,000 to fall within Covid regulations. Baroness Casey wrote that "it was apparent... that Uefa wanted a larger capacity for the semi-final and final and the facility to allow overseas fans and VIPs to attend".

“Capacity was always an ongoing conversation, especially because Budapest was pushing," one FA official told the report.

"That was always a standard conversation with the government around capacity. If we didn’t, the whole week [the semi-finals and final] would have gone to Budapest."

Violence would have been worse had England won

Baroness Casey's report is also critical of the decision to not have fan zones due to Covid-19 laws at the time. "The day of the final ('Euro Sunday') represented a perfect storm with Covid-19 regulations and the impact of the pandemic combining with national euphoria at the England men's team reaching its first final since 1966," she found.

"Shocking and unprecedented levels of criminal and anti-social behaviour" were evident from very early in the day, "which caught all agencies off guard and meant the police deployment arrived too late", she added.

"There was a collective failure by organisations involved in planning the Euro 2020 final to rigorously assess and mitigate the foreseeable risk of the scale of ticketless fans gathering at Wembley ahead of the match.

"While many stadium staff acted with great courage in the face of appalling aggression, and made a number of potentially life-saving and split-second decisions, the final exposed weaknesses in Wembley's security operation and the wider stewarding industry."

The scenes would have been even worse had England won, the report added: "Victory in the penalty shoot-out would have created a further huge public safety risk, with up to 6,000 ticketless fans waiting to storm the stadium at the same time as doors were being opened to allow other fans to leave.

"Overall, there was a lack of recognition that the final was more than a football match to be managed – it was an occasion of national significance."

'Police planned for wrong risks'

Criticism of the Met Police surrounded the assumption that the majority of fan misbehaviour would take place after the game.

"With the benefit of hindsight, the police planned for the wrong risks: disorder after the match, rather than first thing in the morning," she wrote.

"As a result, officers were deployed too late in the day to provide a visible uniformed presence and set the tone as fans started arriving and gathering in large numbers in the morning. By the time officers were on the ground, the area around Olympic Way was already effectively 'lost', with significant levels of anti-social behaviour occurring, fueled by alcohol and drug-consumption."

Describing a "near miss" in terms of potential fatalities, she added: "The lack of large fan zones at capacity and also the vast reduction in opportunities for fans to eat and drink near Wembley played a huge role in what happened that day."

The FA and Met Police must agree on who is in overall control of Zone Ex, an area immediately outside the stadium which became a "street party" from 9am, she added.

"There is an ongoing question around who is responsible for public safety in Zone Ex, as well as the loss of experienced public order teams since 2010, are also significant," Baroness Casey said. "These urgently need to be resolved."

Baroness Casey said afterwards that she was not looking for a scapegoat.

"[The] review also wishes to put on record that the police took action around the stadium with considerable skill and courage, stabilising the situation shortly after kick-off, and ensuring the match was able to progress," she added.

The FA said in response that it "will fully accept the findings".

Review could force changes in security law

Baroness Casey was commissioned by the FA in the immediate aftermath of the tournament.

The "perfect storm" of factors, which she said were to blame, included "Covid-19 restrictions and the release from lockdown; England progressing to the final; spare seats being available in the stadium; and the lack of alternative venues including fan zones to ‘soak up’ the crowd".

Those factors "all contributed to the chaotic and dangerous scenes on the day", she added.

However, she added that there were "gaps in intelligence gathering and consideration of how many ticketless fans would travel to Wembley on the day, how early they would arrive and how they might behave".

Casey said the prospect of new legislation around fan safety was "welcome and timely" as it "has not been significantly reviewed since the Hillsborough tragedy". In the wake of the deadly events of 15 April, 1989, Lord Justice Taylor's report led to a host of improved safety measures, including standing terraces to be replaced with all-seater stadia.

There are also demands for banning orders to tackle the thousands of incidents of "tailgating and entering stadiums or other public events without a ticket".

"The Euro 2020 final was a potentially glorious national occasion that turned into a day of national shame. Our team of role models were in our first major final for 55 years," she said.

"However, they were let down by a horde of ticketless, drunken and drugged-up thugs who chose to abuse innocent, vulnerable and disabled people, as well as police officers, volunteers and Wembley staff, creating an appalling scene of disorder and coming perilously close to putting lives at risk.

"We are genuinely lucky that there was not much more serious injury or worse, and need to take the toughest possible action against people who think a football match is somehow an excuse to behave like that."

FA apology

In response to the review, Mr Bullingham said: "The FA apologises for the terrible experience that many suffered within Wembley on what should have been a historic night for the game. Everyone at the FA was appalled at the significant levels of crowd disorder throughout the day on 11 July.

"The review makes clear that the circumstances leading up to the match led to a perfect storm of lawlessness. No event is set up to deal with such disgraceful behaviour from thousands of ticketless fans. Collectively, we must never allow this to happen again.

"Baroness Casey is clear that moving forwards, where there is an event of national significance, we and all agencies must view it through a different lens... The lessons learned from this review will ensure that fans have a good experience at major international events at Wembley, as they have for many years."

The FA has already been sanctioned by Uefa over the disorder and must play their next home game in European competition behind closed doors.

The fan chaos was disastrous timing for the Government given that the UK and Ireland is considering a bid for the 2030 World Cup, with a feasibility study ongoing. Nigel Huddleston, the Sports Minister, said last month that he was convinced the disorder had not "put the kibosh" on hopes.

Bullingham rejected suggestions that the shameful Wembley episode had dented hopes of a potential 2030 World Cup hosting bid with the other UK nations and Ireland. "I am confident we can host major international events [at Wembley]," he said.

"I do believe that we're still in a good place to bid for events. Alexander Ceferin has already come out and said he does not believe it will have an impact on our ability to bid for and host major international events in the future.

"I do believe we are still in a good place to bid for events. We've got to learn a lesson from this and make sure we do bring about those changes in terms of the sea change in fan behaviour."

Metropolitan Police apology

The Met Police have welcomed Baroness Casey's review and declared that they intend to follow the recommendations she has outlined (see box above).

In a statement, the force said that officers faced "unacceptable levels of violence in trying to bring about order" and that "their courage in challenging those unacceptable scenes is commendable and without their efforts, it is clear that this match may have been in jeopardy".

Cmdr Rachel Williams, from the Met Police, said: "First and foremost, I am deeply sorry that so many people who came to enjoy a day of football, were met with unacceptable scenes of disorder.

"We regret that we were not able to do more to prevent those scenes unfolding. We vow to work with the FA and others, to learn from what went wrong and ensure those shocking scenes of thuggery are not repeated."

The Met also confirmed that it is still assessing CCTV footage to identify criminals responsible for the rioting.

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