Euro 2020: Met chief denies policing of final failed as disabled fans tell of terror
A London police chief has revealed that Sunday’s Euro 2020 final could have been abandoned after ticketless fans “overwhelmed” perimeter security at Wembley stadium.
Jane Connors, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said the force was committed to identifying those responsible and rejected claims that the policing operation failed.
Connors said the Met commanders realised before the match on Sunday that a “high number of fans were arriving without tickets”, despite warnings to ticketless fans to stay away.
She said: “Soon after gates opened, the stewarding and outer security perimeter became overwhelmed and fans began pushing through security checks.”
She claimed that only the quick response of police commanders and “brave officers” at the scene prevented the stadium becoming overrun. “Without their immediate intervention, it is possible that this game could have been abandoned,” she said.
So far, 51 people have been arrested across London, including 26 who were detained at Wembley.
Connors added: “I do not accept that the policing operation failed and I stand by the difficult decisions made by police officers and the Met’s public order commanders.”
But she confirmed the policing operation would be reviewed by the Met and the Football Association. She said: “Where lessons can be learned, we will work with partners to ensure that future matches are not disrupted by a group of hooligans who are fuelled on alcohol.”
Meanwhile, disabled fans have spoken of the terror of being caught up in Sunday’s events, as campaigners called for the review to include disability access at the stadium.
Ticketless fans have admitted targeting disabled entrances. Now disabled fans and their carers have described their fear as they became embroiled in a battles between fans and stewards.
Scott Furlong, 39, said the scenes were shocking as he tried to get into the stadium with his 15-year-old son Kian, who has cerebral palsy. First they had to struggle to negotiate Wembley Way because it was so “mobbed with drunk people”.
Furlong said: “The smell of urine was stinging my eyes and pushing Kian’s wheelchair was like a snowplough – there were that many cans, bags and bottles.”
More serious problems began when it came to scanning their tickets at a separate disabled entrance in block N. Furlong said the door was twice kicked in by stewards trying to eject ticketless fans. “The door smacked against my son’s legs. He was shocked and I was furious.”
Furlong, who runs a sports equipment business in Coventry, said: “The stewards were probably in a tizz and didn’t know what to do, but kicking down a disabled entrance was just shocking – it could have hit someone on the head.”
Furlong is also angry with ticketless fans who were hanging around the disabled door to try to gain entry.
“Targeting disabled entrances just shows no compassion whatsoever. I don’t know what the stewards are paid, but I’m sure it wasn’t enough to deal with this lot.”
Kian said: “I was a bit scared when they came through the door. Daddy was shouting at them because the door hit my legs. I think they are idiots.”
Furlong said he managed to get a ticket for his son only after being repeatedly told by Uefa that the disabled allocation was full.
He said the organisation only relented when he emailed photographs of empty disabled seating areas at previous matches. “We’re hearing lots in the news about racism, but the discrimination in general was awful,” he said.
Tim Hiley, 29, an actor from Southampton went to the game with fellow wheelchair-user Joe McIndoe and also witnessed ticketless fans being ejected by stewards via disabled entrances. “I was horrified by what I saw,” he said.
And one ticketless fan posing as a steward in a hi-vis vest tried in vain to grab Joe’s wheelchair to blag his way through the disabled entrance.
Later, Hiley said, “all hell broke loose” when there was delay scanning their tickets. He said up to six stewards tried to hold back dozens of ticketless fans at a disabled entrance at Gate K where it has been claimed hundreds breached security.
Hiley said: “Eventually they were overcome with the sheer size of the crowd and people started running in. It was almost like a scene from Game of Thrones.
“A poor young lad with his leg strapped up and on crutches was floored by the crowd, and then a steward got flattened while trying to prevent people both getting into the ground but getting near me and my friend.”
He added: “The security was abysmal. It was the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe at an event and Wembley has some serious questions to answers.”
Level Playing Field, a charity for disabled supporters, has written to Wembley Stadium and the Met calling for an investigation on the impact on disabled fans.
The charity’s chair, Tony Taylor, said: “We must get some urgent answers about what happened, because the reports I’ve heard have been absolutely horrific. A lot of disabled fans are now really frightened about the level of security provided for them.
“People only got minor injuries, but it could have been much worse. We can’t just single out stewards, many of whom may not have been trained, it needs to be looked in the whole.”
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “It is deeply disturbing that disabled fans were subjected to injurious physical assault at a national sporting venue.
“We will be seeking urgent clarification from Wembley about how this was allowed to happen.”
A spokesman for the FA confirmed that a full investigation will be carried out.
He added: “We also apologise to anyone at the match whose experience was affected by this unprecedented level of public disorder.”