French court convicts two English soccer fans for rioting in Marseille

Courtroom is packed after Britons, 20-year-old Alex Booth and Ian Hepworth, are given two and three months, respectively

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2016, 12:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2016, 12:14am

Two English soccer fans were convicted by a French court on Monday of involvement in rioting and sentenced to two and three months in prison.

The convictions in a packed Marseille courtroom came just hours after prosecutors said “highly trained” Russian hooligans were responsible for the worst violence in three days of rioting before, during and after England and Russia played to a 1-1 draw in their first match of the European Championship.

Alex Booth, a chef who spent his 20th birthday in a French cell after his arrest and wore an England shirt in court, clasped his head in his hands and looked imploringly at his father as a judge sentenced him to two months and banned him from entering France for two years.

His father, Chris Booth, shouted “miscarriage” as his son was led from court and called the decision a “disgrace”.

He said French authorities were “making a scapegoat of a poor kid like Alex” and said they should “find the real thugs”.

Another fan, identified by his French lawyer as Ian Hepworth, showed no emotion as he was sentenced to three months and also got a two-year ban from France.

The convictions were the first in a busy sitting at the Marseille court, which was handling the cases of six Britons, an Austrian and three French suspects arrested during the riots.

Two Russians have been arrested, but were not slated to face swift French justice.

Earlier on Monday, riot police union spokesman Dominique Mesquida said law enforcement officers knew the Russia-England game was a high-risk match, but were not specifically warned to be on the lookout for Russian thugs.

“We weren’t told, ‘Be very careful, you’re going to face ultra-violent Russian groups,’” said Mesquida, a representative of the Unite SGP Police-FO union for the CRS riot police in the Marseille region.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said the Russian hooligans appeared well-trained and intent on attacking England fans.

The comments painted a worrying picture of well-organised, violent Russian hooligans roaming the streets and deliberately attacking England fans as riot police were almost powerless to stop them. Russia’s next match is on Wednesday in the northern city of Lille, only 30km from Lens, where England plays the following day.

Robin said about 35 people were injured in three days of clashes around Saturday’s match at the Stade Velodrome, and that one England fan remained in a critical but stable condition.

Brice said almost all the injured were British.

Twenty people were arrested as police struggled to control running street battles between fans in the city’s Old Port and on roads leading to the stadium.

Robin said about 150 Russian hooligans evaded attempts to keep them out of France during the month-long tournament, though some others were stopped at Marseille’s airport and expelled from the country.

The Russian hooligans “were prepared for hyper-quick and hyper-violent intervention, and that’s where the difficulty came from in proceeding with their arrests”, Robin said.

“I will not say they are violence professionals, but they were highly trained.”

An Associated Press reporter followed one group as it moved swiftly along a broad tree-lined avenue leading to the stadium ahead of Saturday’s match followed by plain-clothed police who regularly fired tear gas, but failing to halt their progress.

Once the hooligans arrived at a roundabout outside the stadium they immediately charged into British fans and then dispersed as police again fired tear gas and used a water cannon.

Mesquida described the Russians as “paramilitary groups” and said they arrived in Marseille, “with the intention to hurt, to cause injuries among the British”.