Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Hooliganism fight can be won

Major changes needed to clamp down on football violence

By Constantinos Psillides

LIFTING THE veil of anonymity surrounding football hooligans, relentlessly pursuing them and engaging the public in a targeted media campaign are just some of the actions police should take to effectively deal with football violence in Cyprus, according to a former chief superintendent of West Midlands police force in England.

“This is not an insolvable problem,” Michael Layton told the Sunday Mail, adding that football violence can be reduced to a manageable level.

“It would perhaps be naive to say that it can ever be eradicated completely in any country but it can certainly be managed and reduced in size.”

The April 22 clash between APOEL and AEL fans which resulted in an innocent bystander losing an eye when he was hit in the face by a rock, is just the latest incident in the ever-rising menace of football hooliganism.

Layton, a frequent visitor to Cyprus, is no stranger to issues of football violence.

A veteran with more than 40 years in the police service and a former director of intelligence and operations with the British Transport Police (BTP), Layton was directly involved in the British police force’s fight against hooliganism.

Layton managed an undercover police operation called ‘Operation Red Card’ which targeted Birmingham City Football Clubs football hooligans known as Zulu Warriors.

According to the book Football, Violence and Social Identity, by Richard Guilianotti,the 1987 operation (one was also launched in 1999) ended in January of that year when 180 police officers swooped in the homes of 67 youths suspected of belonging to the hooligan group.

Twenty-one were remanded in custody for one week while others were bailed not to go within one mile of a football ground. Forty-nine were charged. Fifteen were jailed, the maximum sentence being 30 months.

Asked by the Sunday Mail, Layton produced a 20 point list on how to deal with football hooligans, clarifying that a basket of solutions should be offered so the police can pick those that fit the situation best.

In his action plan, Layton pointed out that anonymity was one of the main problems to tackle.

“They need to know that their identities are known and that there are consequences to their actions which in turn increase the fear of detection,” said Layton.

In the past authorities had asked the clubs to cooperate with them by issuing a “fan ID card”, which fans would be required to present to enter the football grounds. The suggestion never materialised, as clubs did not want to antagonise fans who vehemently opposed the suggestion.

Police then tried to use other deterrents, such as publicising photos of hooligans. This measure has also proven ineffective, as the latest clash showed clearly. Police issued 11 pictures of hooligans but no arrests have yet been made.

Sergeant Michalis Herodotou, head of police anti-hooliganism office, agreed with Layton that an anonymity ban could be an important weapon.

“Once these people feel that their anonymity is at risk, they won’t set foot in a football field. Anonymity is their greatest weapon,” he said on Saturday.

“The cards would be issued by the club themselves. We won’t have access to personal data, except when it comes to criminal investigation. We don’t care who issues a fan ID card, as long as they are issued,” he said.

But Herodotou told the Mail that although clubs had initially been in favour of the measure, they backed down when the story broke in the media.

Police have released pictures of hooligan suspects but no arrests have been made
Police have released pictures of hooligan suspects but no arrests have been made

Following the anonymity ban, Layton argued that the justice system needed to speed up with emphasis put on addressing the expectations of victims rather than the offenders. Politicians, he said, should support the judiciary system in terms of having an effective deterrent sentencing policy.

“Offenders should expect to start going to prison,” said Layton.

The former chief superintendent also suggested that the law governing CCTV and hand held camera footage should be re-examined. Currently the admission of video footage is a “grey area” for Cypriot courts.

“The innocent have nothing to fear from being viewed on camera but visual evidence provides irrefutable evidence in a court of law and also acts as a real deterrent when people know that they are likely to be filmed,” Layton argued.

Stringent bail conditions should also be applied when a suspect is arrested for football related matters. These could include not being allowed to enter any designated football ground in Cyprus or areas such as clubhouses or town centres, signing on at police stations on match days and curfews.

Layton’s action plan also calls for an “intelligence led task force”, to gather and assess intelligence on a regular basis so as to produce problem profiles on priority hooligan groups, create target profiles of individuals and identify “hot spots” through historical analysis.

All of these, according to the former Chief Superintendent, would enable the police to make operational decisions as to where to deploy staff.

A historical data analysis would have indeed saved the police a lot of trouble, if it had been applied before the APOEL-AEL game. It wasn’t the first time the area near the futsal fields next to the Nicosia stadium had seen football related violence. On November 15, 2009, fans of APOEL and Omonoia clashed at that very same spot, armed with knives, baseball bats and wooden sticks. The incident resulted in an APOEL fan being seriously injured when fans of the other team almost beat him to death.

When dealing with football hooligans, Layton said the police should be relentless and not just when it comes to football related activities. He cited the “Al Capone philosophy”, referring to the famous Chicago mobster who was arrested not for his numerous criminal activities but for tax evasion.

“Do they have outstanding fine warrants, do they drive an uninsured car, do they not wear seat-beats? Do they drink and drive or take drugs? Do they regularly park on double yellow lines? Do they carry weapons or engage in illegal hunting?” asked Layton. “A target profile will identify these issues and create enforcement opportunities aimed at disrupting the individual to the point where they either give up their anti-social behaviour to get out of the limelight or go to prison.”

Layton described the hooligan structure as that of an ‘apple’ with the hard core group generally being made up of no more than a hundred hard-line hooligans who will be happy to engage in fighting. The second layer consists of ‘up and comer’ individuals who are prepared to join in with the hard liners when the odds are right, and then finally an outer layer of people who are happy to run round at the back trying to look as if they are fighting but actually doing nothing apart from adding to the chaos. “Whilst it is the hard core who should be treated as a priority, nevertheless you need to cut off roots and branches in relation to the other two layers to stop them becoming part of the core,” he warned.

Although most of the measures he suggested are suppressive, Layton made it clear that an effective media campaign is absolutely crucial.

Layton stressed that law-abiding football goers should not feel targeted.

“The vast majority of people who attend football matches are decent law abiding citizens who usually want nothing more than to support and enjoy a sporting activity which brings people together in a common bond,” he said. “Whatever we do we therefore need to make sure that we do not criminalise the innocent majority and it is vital that they feel engaged and part of any solutions.”

Responding to those that said that police should completely withdraw from policing matches and leave the security to the clubs, Layton said that this was simply not an option for any civilised society.

“Once you start withdrawing from one element of policing, it is inevitable that the community will try to fill the void to police themselves and anarchy prevails with only the strongest winning,” he said.

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