We had to act

After a turbulent week in the Algarve, during which the Albufeira Strip became the scene of violent outbreaks, celebrations following England’s win over Croatia proved boisterous but without serious incident in the region. But, sadly, one England fan was stabbed and later died in Lisbon. (see page six).

So far, 51 British men have been arrested in the Algarve, 50 of whom have been deported back to the UK on various charges of civil unrest. Many of the fans who have returned home are claiming that the Portuguese police used unnecessary force and that the cases against them were unfair.

There was also a general feeling among remaining fans, and some bar owners, that the GNR officers policing the Strip were ‘heavy-handed’ in their dealings and that this only served to exacerbate the violence. One fan commented “They went straight in with batons and most of us were only singing songs.” Television cameras recorded full-blown street battles and GNR officers using force and, in some cases, what appeared to be extreme force, to control unruly fans.

The Resident discussed the accusations of police brutality with Captain Carlos Pereira from the Albufeira GNR. “Large groups of English supporters gathered together in Albufeira. They were fighting and provoking the officers,” he explained. “We had to act to maintain public order.

Our force was hit with chairs and glasses, so we had to bring in the riot squad.”

The trouble came despite a massive effort by the Portuguese and English authorities. Were the GNR officers as prepared as they thought they were? “We were obviously expectant and prepared for violence and are well rehearsed in how to deal with threatening situations,” commented Pereira. “We are not a confrontational force. The Strip, where the violence broke out, is a closed area, the fans were behaving very violently and we had to act accordingly. We only ever use the lowest level of necessary force.” Despite many claims to the contrary, Pereira continued to insist that “the GNR officers only used the force proportionate to the situation.”

All fans are very welcome here in the Algarve

This is the first time Portugal has seen such a high level of football related violence, and it is certainly the first time the GNR have had to deal with large numbers of violent English yobs. Has this small group of troublemakers affected the GNR’s relationship with British residents and holidaymakers? “As regards UK citizens, we have a very good relationship, both with expatriates living here and the many holidaymakers who spend their summer here in the Algarve.” Pereira told us. “British tourists have been and always will be very welcome here in the Algarve, but the people involved in the violence in Albufeira are not ‘average’ English tourists. We are currently operating very closely with the British authorities and together we are working to control the levels of violence.”

We asked Pereira if he had a message for English football fans. He said, “enjoy the championship, without resorting to violence. All fans are very welcome here in the Algarve and we want them to enjoy their time here. But the purpose of football is not to instigate violence.”

Everyone should be aware

Thousands of England fans are expected to arrive in the Algarve and Lisbon today (June 24) to watch the quarter-final match against hosts Portugal. As Albufeira braced itself for another influx of fans, a Câmara spokesperson told us. “Due to the presence of the Euro 2004 in Portugal, our town has an exceptionally high volume of visitors, thanks to its excellent accommodation and its well-known liveliness. As we were expecting lots of extra visitors, we had extra security measures in place in preparation for various problematic situations.

However, because of the recent violence, the Câmara would like to reiterate the need for special measures. Commercial establishments are a common target, so shop windows and high value goods should be protected, drinks should be served in plastic glasses and bottles and glass ashtrays should not be left on tables.

It’s important to collect loose stones, sticks, publicity boards and sunshades that could be used as weapons, as well as alerting the GNR if there are any abnormal situations or disturbances. The Câmara considers that the help of the population is essential for the security and tranquility of Albufeira. Everyone should be aware and help to prevent further incidents.

Concern over ‘fast’ football case

Firefighter Garry Mann was sentenced to two years in prison following his arrest on June 14 when a riot erupted in Albufeira. However, despite being identified and found guilty of inciting the trouble in Albufeira, Mann appears to have avoided the two-year term that he was due to serve in the UK.

The problem is that there is currently no UK law that covers a person sentenced abroad, if they do not serve any of their term in that country. Mann was expelled from Portugal before the necessary paperwork was completed and, under the Council of Europe’s convention on transfer of sentenced prisoners, British citizens who receive jail terms in an EU country have to first be detained and then apply for repatriation if they are to go on to serve their term in their home country.

At a press conference given by Mann on June 21, he said that he is innocent and has been victimised. Mann, 46, claims he received an unfair trial and was subjected to sleep deprivation and beatings by GNR officers in Albufeira. He was speaking at the offices of the Fair Trials Abroad group in London. After Mann was freed Home Secretary David Blunkett said he wanted to “nail this individual”. “Had they put him in jail then we would immediately have been able to start negotiations on transfer,” Blunkett told reporters. Deputy Chief Constable David Swift, the senior British police officer advising the Portuguese authorities, admitted he was “disappointed” with the outcome of the case, but said it would act as a deterrent to others. “I would have thought that the experience he has gone through in the last two or three days, including all the media attention, is a powerful deterrent to anyone who is thinking about getting into trouble,” he commented. Swift also called on England fans to stay away from the Strip in Albufeira.

“It’s a stitch-up. I wasn’t even there.”

A spokesperson from Fair Trials Abroad has condemned Mann’s sentence, saying that the hearing did not comply with the European Convention of Human Rights, which allows defendants time to prepare a defence and call witnesses. After the hearing Mann reportedly shouted: “It’s a stitch-up. I wasn’t even there.” Stephen Jakobi from Fair Trials Abroad said that it is impossible for the trial to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights, which has been incorporated into Portuguese law. Legal affairs analysts are also saying that fast-track cases such as this are in breach of the convention. This means that Mann could appeal against his conviction and sentence at the European Court of Human Rights, if he failed to get it overturned in all Portuguese courts.

The Kent firefighter also faces a three-year match ban. He has been suspended from duty at the Kent Fire Brigade while his activities in Portugal are investigated and he could also lose his job. At Uxbridge Magistrates Court, West London, Mann confirmed his name and address, and indicated that he understood the bail conditions, but said nothing else. He was told to surrender his passport and will be unable to leave the UK before the next hearing, scheduled for July 28.