Police admit to mistakes over handling of Brighton game

Croydon police want more regular dialogue with Crystal Palace fans and fans’ groups ahead of the new football season, when 16 league matches at Selhurst Park will have no police inside the ground during the game.

What Crystal Palace fans think of senior steward Tony Pearson

Policing costs are one of the most expensive overheads for the Championship club; the more games it can marshal using only part-time stewards, the more money it can save for the development of the team and the ground.

Trusting the club to self-police all but seven of its 23 home league games is a tribute to Palace’s management and its relationship with Croydon police. However, not all unpoliced matches passed off without incident last season, including notoriously the fixture against Birmingham, in which senior steward – and local Conservative councillor – Tony Pearson was accused of assaulting fans in the home section of the ground.

Initially suspended, the club took no further disciplinary action against Pearson over the incident. Lawyers’ letters are known to have been sent, but few, if any, Palace supporters came forward to give evidence. Last month, Pearson was promoted on Croydon Council, giving him around £20,000 in annual allowances. He will have responsibility for “police relations”.

One of the matters that Councillor Pearson will have to consider is planning for the 2012-2013 home game against rivals Brighton, after the corresponding fixture last season saw the club leading widespread complaints over police tactics.

At a meeting between senior police officers and fans groups this week, Croydon Police admitted that they could have handled crowd control better for the Brighton game.

Thousands of fans were prevented from crossing the Park Road and Selhurst Park junction by an eight-foot high steel barrier which was erected during half-time of the 1-1 draw between Palace and Brighton on January 31.

On Wednesday night, Croydon’s outgoing Chief Superintendent, Adrian Roberts, and CS Dave Musker, his replacement, met Palace fans to discuss issues.

Roberts insisted the steel wall tactic was a “success” but admitted fans had been let down by poor communication. “I understand it was frustrating for fans but we wanted it to be a surprise tactic,” Roberts told the meeting.

Some Palace fans in the Arthur Wait stand were kept in the ground while Brighton supporters were marshalled away from the stadium. This was done without warning, and led to anger.

“We wanted to get the Brighton fans out and back home quickly, in 10 minutes, like we had previously done with Millwall fans,” Roberts said. “Owing to a number of circumstances, like trains not running on time, it didn’t quite happen and Palace fans lost out a bit. I’ve never kept home fans in after a game before.”

Roberts added that intelligence on the night had indicated there would be serious violence around the stadium, with several home-made weapons found. “I seriously believe if we hadn’t deployed the tactics we had, innocent people would have been hurt,” Roberts said.

“I can never say it will or won’t happen again,” Roberts said, “but we do need to have better dialogue with those 99.9 per cent of honest, peaceful Palace fans.”

The home game against Brighton next season – due to be played on Saturday, December 1 – may yet be a midday kick-off, according to Palace Chief Executive Phil Alexander.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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