Photo credit: Tariq Panja (@tariqpanja Twitter)

The Champions League Final: What Went Wrong? – Panorama investigates

A BBC Panorama documentary airing tonight (17 October) catalogues the failures that led to Liverpool fans being tear-gassed by French police at the Champions League final in May.

Reporter Layla Wright analysed more than three hundred videos, recorded by supporters who were there, to piece together what led to the chaos at the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France in May.

As part of the investigation, Panorama also spoke to fans who attended the match, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotherham, former Liverpool footballer and pundit, Jason McAteer, and Professor Phil Scraton, who led the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

The investigation found that crowd control had been prioritised over fan safety resulting in Liverpool supporters being put at risk by dangerous overcrowding and inappropriate policing.

An intelligence report sent to French authorities by Merseyside police and seen by BBC Panorama, revealed that Merseyside police assessed Liverpool fans as well behaved, saying that they would not welcome “heavy handed” policing.

  • Expert says Liverpool fans’ memories of Hillsborough disaster prevented fatalities
  • Riot police were deployed to control crowds despite advice from a Merseyside Police pre-match intelligence report, seen by Panorama, which stated that Liverpool fans were well-behaved in Europe and did not appreciate the use of heavy-handed policing
  • Expert says many young fans needed counselling following the events

The same report raised concerns about fake tickets and said that up to 50,000 Liverpool fans would travel to France without tickets but it did not say they would try to get into the stadium.

Panorama showed the report to football policing expert, Professor Geoff Pearson, who said, “If [the French police] are trying to use the British intelligence report to base what went wrong on the day – they are just cherry-picking certain minor elements of it and completely ignoring other elements.”

Professor Phil Scraton, who led to the Hillsborough Independent Panel and who carried out his own inquiry into events at the Stade de France, believes that UEFA were in breach of their own safety guidelines.

“I worked on Hillsborough for 30 years and I never felt that we would be back in the same seat again, making the same kind of points. If it hadn’t been for the restraint of many of those Liverpool fans and the historical knowledge of Hillsborough. We would have had deaths at the Stade de France,” he said.

UEFA issued an apology to both Liverpool and Real Madrid fans in June and has commissioned its own independent inquiry which will be published in November.

The film investigates how crushing began when thousands of Liverpool fans were funnelled into a walkway on the approach to the stadium. A security checkpoint also being used by stewards to check tickets, added to the bottleneck.

As the build-up of fans increased, police ordered the ticket checkpoint be abandoned because of fears about safety. The release of fans then led to another crush closer to the ground, which was made worse by some gates being closed because groups of locals were trying to break in.

19-year-old Grace Merritt who attended the game with her 14-year-old brother told the BBC: “I felt like I couldn’t breathe because me ribs were in so much pain and I just knew straight away I could break my ribs if I stay in this.

“I continuously spoke to the police and they didn’t have a care in the world whatsoever. There was actually one that laughed at me,” she said.

Grace told Panorama that her father was 12 when he was injured in the crush at the Hillsborough disaster. Thirty years later at the Stade de France, she too suffered crush injuries and said that when French riot police tear gassed Liverpool fans, it felt like she was in a “war zone”.

Maxwell Pearce, aged 11, travelled to the match with his father. It should have been the trip of a lifetime. Instead, he was caught in the crush and then tear gassed. He said he thought he was “going to die” and described how those around him encouraged him to get on the ground and hold his scarf over his face so he could breathe.

Steve Rotherham, who also experienced the crush, told the BBC that once inside the ground he tried to express his concerns for the safety of Liverpool fans to the UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

He said, “I started to explain the very real concerns that I had for people’s safety outside. He tried to stop me talking.” Rotherham explained: “My immediate reaction was, well, as long as you don’t kill the fans outside, that’s my concern. And as I said that he said I was being disrespectful. And he said, this conversation is over.”

The UEFA President later wrote to Steve Rotherham, saying he’d walked away so he could deal with the unfolding situation.

Professor Phil Scraton says many Liverpool fans had been left traumatised by their experience in Paris.

“So many people have written that they went home. They didn’t sleep. For days, weeks their kids needed counselling schools, setting up counsellors in schools for children who survived,” he explained.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham told Panorama: “This will continue to happen unless UEFA make a concerted effort to ensure that the primary objective of any of their games is fan safety.”

UEFA has apologised to Liverpool and Real Madrid Fans. It did not respond to Panorama’s questions, saying its own inquiry will be published next month.

The French police have said it regrets using tear gas against vulnerable fans and those who did not cause any trouble.

The French Government has accepted that there was poor management on the day and that it has made recommendations to ensure fan safety at future events.

BBC Panorama, The Champions League Final: What Went Wrong. Monday 17 October, 8pm BBC One