Met Police denies operation failed at Wembley

The Metropolitan Police has denied that its operation failed ahead of Sunday’s UEFA Euro 2020 final at Wembley and has said that the match “could have been abandoned” without the immediate intervention of officers.

The final between England and Italy on Sunday night was marred by ugly scenes which saw several ticketless fans storm Wembley after breaking through ticket barriers. Videos on social media also showed fans fighting with other supporters and stewards once inside the stadium.

The official capacity for the match was 60,000 in line with COVID-19 guidelines. However, estimates suggest that there were around 200,000 fans in the vicinity of the stadium ahead of kick-off.

The English Football Association (FA) said on Monday that it would carry out a full review and investigation into the events. UEFA, football’s European governing body, followed suit on Tuesday and specifically charged the FA with offences relating to invasion of the field of play by its supporters, throwing of objects by its supporters, lighting a firework by its fans and disturbance of the Italian national anthem.

UEFA said that an Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector has been appointed to conduct a disciplinary investigation into events involving supporters which occurred “inside and around the stadium”. More information on this matter will be made available in due course.

Sunday’s events have led to criticism of the security operation in place at Wembley but the Met Police has denied that it was at fault. In a statement issued yesterday (Wednesday), Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jane Conners reiterated the Met’s commitment to identifying the fans responsible for the scenes at Wembley and in central London.

“Ahead of the final, police commanders deployed one of the most significant and comprehensive policing plans the Met has ever committed to a football match of this scale,” said Conners. “In Wembley, soon into the day it became clear that a high number of fans were arriving without tickets.

“Police commanders recognised this could result in ticketless fans attempting to get into the stadium, they updated security officials at Wembley of this risk. To support the stewarding efforts, further highly trained public order officers were deployed to Wembley Stadium as a precaution.

“Soon after gates opened, the stewarding and outer security perimeter became overwhelmed and fans began pushing through security checks. I want to praise the quick response by police commanders and those brave officers who confronted these subsequent scenes of disorder and violence.”

The statement continued: “I am in no doubt that their swift action prevented any further escalation. Frustratingly, 19 of our officers were injured during the course of Sunday’s policing operation when confronting volatile crowds.

“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. Without their immediate intervention, it is possible that this game could have been abandoned.

“The ugly scenes at Wembley on Sunday night will rightly be reviewed by the Football Association and by police. Where lessons can be learnt we will work with partners to ensure that future matches are not disrupted by a group of hooligans who are fuelled on alcohol.”

The Met Police said that 51 people were arrested across London as part of its policing operation on Sunday. Twenty-six of those were arrested in Wembley, with 25 arrests made following events in central London. Further arrests are expected in the coming days and weeks.

One of the organisers of the groups of ticketless fans that stormed Wembley told The Guardian earlier this week that hundreds of supporters had shared tips about getting into Wembley via instant messaging platform Telegram.

The fan detailed how he and around 300 others got into Wembley via an entrance for disabled visitors and claimed others bribed stewards to get in. The fan estimated that at least 5,000 entered the stadium without a ticket.

Image: Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash