MARSEILLE, France, Jun 14 – England supporters were jailed Monday over the Marseille fan battles before the England-Russia Euro 2016 match as a top British police officer accused Russian hooligans of staging an “orchestrated” campaign of violence.
A French prosecutor said 150 “extremely well-prepared” Russians evaded arrest in the mass brawls on Saturday, the worst violence at a major international football tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
The head of Britain’s policing for the championships, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Roberts, said troublemakers “targeted England fans in an orchestrated way”.
A Northern Ireland fan meanwhile became the first fatality at Euro 2016 after plunging over a restaurant balcony to his death. Witnesses said he had been drinking.
– ‘I was stupid’ –
Two British men and a French man were jailed for their part in running battles between English and Russian fans in Marseille’s Vieux Port district on Saturday.
Ian Hepworth, a 41-year-old psychiatric nurse, was sentenced to three months in prison. Alexander Booth, a 20-year-old chef, was jailed for two months.
Hepworth, who admitted throwing a beer bottle at police, told the court: “My job is helping people. I did something stupid.”
Booth, who was wearing an England team t-shirt, admitted lobbing a plastic beer cup and making an offensive gesture at police. Prosecutors said he had thrown a glass bottle at policemen’s legs.
“I apologise to the people and the police of Marseille. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Booth.
A Frenchman, 29-year-old David Palmeri, was jailed for 12 months with another 12 months suspended for punching and hitting three people and stealing an England shirt.
Another four Britons, an Austrian and two more Frenchmen were also to be tried on Monday.
An English man in his fifties who was apparently beaten on the head with an iron bar in the violence remains in a critical condition.
The attackers have not been identified, but Marseille’s prosecutor Brice Robin said 150 “extremely well-trained” Russian troublemakers had taken part in the Marseille unrest.
They were “prepared for hyper-fast and hyper-violent acts”, Brice said, adding that they had slipped through police surveillance to get into France.
France’s Sports Minister Patrick Kanner said Russia should have done more to stop the hooligans from travelling to the championships.
“It is a regrettable lack of cooperation,” Kanner told AFP. “The Russian authorities should never have let these people go and they must react.”
Roberts, the British police coordinator, said the Russians in Marseille were wearing gum shields, martial arts gloves and carrying knives.
“We know that troublemakers targeted England fans in an orchestrated way inflicting serious injuries,” he said in a statement, adding that “a small minority” of England fans had responded with violence.
There are concerns that Russian and English fans could clash again this week in the northern city of Lille.
Russia’s next game is in Lille on Wednesday against Slovakia, while England play Wales in nearby Lens on Thursday.
Roberts said more British officers had been sent to France to help French police.
Tensions came to a head inside the Stade Velodrome after Saturday’s 1-1 England-Russia draw.
Russian fans charged into a section of the stadium occupied by English supporters and began throwing punches, sending spectators including women and children fleeing.
– ‘Stay out of trouble’ –
UEFA has warned Russia and England that they could be kicked out of the tournament if their supporters cause more violence. It also told the two countries to appeal to their supporters to behave.
In response, England captain Wayne Rooney and coach Roy Hodgson made a video plea for the country’s fans.
“I’m appealing to you to stay out of trouble,” Hodgson said. “We really desperately want to stay in the competition.”
Rooney added: “Be safe, be sensible and continue with your great support for the players.”
The French cities of Lyon, which hosts its first match on Monday when Belgium face Italy, and Toulouse announced bans on alcohol sales to football fans on match days.
Darren Rodgers, 25, the Northern Ireland fan who died, fell over the balcony of a restaurant on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
With Euro 2016 in full swing, thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of France on Tuesday in new protests against the government labour reforms.
The latest in a wave of protests that began in March coincides with the start of debate in the French Senate over the reforms, which are aimed at making the job market more flexible.