Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Italian police deny brutality in night of soccer violence

AP , ROME

Manchester United supporter Victor Hindley shows the head wound that he received after Wednesday night's European Champions League quarter-final soccer match in Rome between United and AS Roma, in Blackpool, England, on Thursday. The 42-year-old said that police had targeted English fans for beatings.

PHOTO: AP

Italian police acted properly in clashes with Manchester United fans, the government's top security official in Rome said on Thursday.

Rome prefect Achille Serra defended the police action at Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday, where United faced AS Roma in the Champions League.

"It will be cleared up whether there was one clubbing too many, but no one can think that an intervention like this can come off with flowers in one's hand," Serra said in an interview on Italian state TV.

Police, swinging clubs, had charged at United supporters in what Serra described as a bid to prevent them from reaching a section of Roma fans.

Outside the stadium there were more clashes, and two English fans were hospitalized with stab wounds. Serra said at least three of the 18 fans reported injured were Italian.

"On both sides there is a category of violent imbeciles who use knives," Serra said in separate remarks.

But in the TV interview, Serra suggested that the English fans tend to be troublesome.

"The Spanish, the French, the Germans in Milan [in Tuesday's games] -- nothing ever happened," Serra said. "Unfortunately these episodes happen often with the English."

Steven Fitzsimons, who was stabbed in the groin, said he and his friends were ambushed by Roma fans outside the stadium and that there were no police around.

"I got hit in the back of the head, I stumbled to the floor," Fitzsimons said. "When I got up, we were surrounded by Roma fans all with knives. They just attacked us, stabbed us and that was basically it."

Three United fans who were arrested by Italian police in a separate clash will face fast-track trials, the British embassy in Italy said. It was not immediately clear what charges the three Britons will face.

Serra said that the three fans were already released from jail.

"I think that those three, had they been arrested in England, would have stayed in prison for several months," Serra said.

The three fans have been banned from Italian stadiums for three years, and their trial will begin in November, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Officials at police headquarters and the prefect's office could not immediately be reached for comment.

A British Home Office official, Vernon Coaker, told BBC radio: "The scenes that we saw on our television screens were extremely concerning. We need some explanation of what actually took place and the police response to it."

British officials said that the UK government was gathering evidence from embassy staff and witnesses.

In Rome, the British embassy said that it had supplied a report on the match to the Home Office, and that Manchester police were working "in partnership" with Italian police.

Shortly before halftime, police in riot gear clashed with some of United's 4,500 fans. Police hit fans with batons as opposing fans taunted and threw objects at each other across the partition separating the rival sections. At least one fan was seen lying in the stands with blood all over his face.

Manchester United said on Thursday in a statement that it would look into the police clashes with fans.

"There were clearly some very disturbing scenes in the stadium on Wednesday night," the club said on its Web site.

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