Mon. Sep 27th, 2021

‘You have to plan for a siege’: Police should have predicted Wembley storming, experts say

Police should have predicted the storming of Wembley stadium, amid “high tensions” over the historic match and pent-up energy following over a year of coronavirus restrictions.

Senior officers have admitted that they were caught out by disorder that marred Sunday’s final between England and Italy.

Deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor admitted that the Metropolitan Police had not expected so many people to arrive in Wembley without tickets.

“We spent a lot of time encouraging and asking people not to turn up if they hadn’t got a ticket prior to the event, and clearly a lot of people chose to ignore us,” he adds.

“I don’t think anybody was expecting large numbers of people to try and incur into the stadium.”

Experts say the incident, which followed hours of drinking and drug-taking by thousands of fans surrounding the stadium, should have been predicted and mitigated against.

Dr Keith Still, a crowd scientist who formerly worked at Wembley stadium, says the threat of an incursion would have been “top of my list” and did not come as a surprise.

“People wanted to be a part of that experience and Wembley is such a huge magnet,” he told The Independent.

“You plan for a major siege, you plan for tens of thousands of people turning up ticketless. You plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Attendees have criticised security measures at Wembley, including a perceived lack of stewards, insufficient outer security cordons, the use of weak “Harris” fencing that could be pushed over easily, people without tickets forcing their way in behind paying guests and booked seats being aggressively taken by intruders.

Critics view the situation, which is subject to an investigation by the Football Association (FA), as particularly dangerous given the Covid pandemic and “substantial” terror threat level.

Dr Martha Newson, an anthropologist at the University of Kent who specialises in football fandoms, says she was surprised “that there were opportunities around Wembley for disorder to break out”.

“The world is emerging as a somewhat different place after 18 months of anxiety and frustration, and the Met’s expectations should have accounted for that,” she adds. “Football is often treated as an outlet.”

Dr Newson says some England fans saw attending Wembley, even without a ticket, as a “religious pilgrimage” on one of the team’s biggest matches since the 1966 World Cup.

She says that once thousands were there, the risk of some trying to force their way into the stadium was “obvious”.

Fans told The Independent of rumours leading up to the match that Wembley games were easy to “jib” into without tickets, and that there had been “zero police presence” for the matches against Denmark and Germany.

Dr Still, a visiting professor at the University of Sussex, says it was routine for ticketless fans to arrive at major matches trying to buy tickets from touts or use “begging and excuses” to get in.

“You’ve got to think, ‘what is the most stupid thing people could try to do’ – and plan for that,” he adds.

Cheshire Constabulary’s chief constable Mark Roberts, the national lead for football policing, says the number of ticketless fans who attended Wembley on Sunday was “unprecedented”.

“The level of substance abuse, of alcohol or drugs, was very significant from early in the day,” he adds.

“Decent fans were the majority but they were interspersed with people looking for trouble. That makes it very challenging to police.”

At least 86 people have been arrested over football-related disorder in London on Sunday, including 53 at Wembley.

A total of 19 police officers were injured, including one who suffered broken bones in their hand, while another lost a tooth.

Senior police officers had previously described England celebrations, which have violated coronavirus laws on gatherings, as mostly “good-natured” and says they were fully prepared for the final.

Planners believed that the chance of violence was lower because travel restrictions reduced the number of opposing fans in the capital.

Scotland Yard insists it had a “large scale policing operation” in place and said it appealed for people without tickets not to travel to Wembley.

“Officers, including those from the mounted branch and the dog unit, worked with Wembley stadium officials and stewards to respond quickly to any outbreaks of anti-social behaviour and disorder, to ensure those with tickets could access the stadium,” a statement said.

“Just before the match started, a group of people did breach an outer perimeter security cordon and gain entry into the stadium without a ticket. Officers worked quickly to identify these people and to assist with ejecting them from the stadium.”

A spokesperson for the FA says it will carry out a full review and investigation into the events that took place at Wembley Stadium before and during the final.

“Security and stewarding numbers for the UEFA Euro 2020 final exceeded the requirements for the match and were greater than any other previous event at Wembley stadium,” he adds.

“However, the behaviour of the people who illegally forced their way into the stadium was unacceptable, dangerous and showed total disregard for the safety and security protocols in place.

“No steward or security staff should be subjected to this type of behaviour and we thank them for their support on the night. We also apologise to anyone at the match whose experience was affected by this unprecedented level of public disorder.”

Source: (The Independent)