CAS Trust Secretary Richard Wiseman attended the Police meeting at Selhurst Park on 21st February, as part of a Fans Forum delegation, along with about 40 local residents.
The issue of concern was the perceived inappropriate and poorly executed tactics by police, involving a decision to hold all Charlton fans for twenty minutes outside the stadium after the match at the junction of Park Road and Sangley Road, and then to funnel them under close escort en mass down Sangley Road to Norwood Junction with no egress into side roads permitted. The group was then kept stationary for some time, and Fans were confronted with police dogs as the crowd tried to move forwards.
The main result of this decision was a great deal of distress and risk from trampling or crushing for Charlton supporters who included children and elderly people.
There was also considerable amount of damage to vehicles and property of Sangley Road residents which locals were rightly very upset about.
CAFC has received dozens of complaints along these lines with many referencing rudeness and aggression from individual police officers and very poor communication before during and after the game. Furthermore, many had noted that they had gone to the match by car and had no wish to go to Norwood Junction.
The meeting was chaired by Chief Superintendent Richard Wood who had not been in post in Croydon at the time of the match. The officer responsible for making the decision to use Sangley Road was Supt Roberts, but he was not at the meeting as he was on leave.
It was left to Inspector Harvey Martin who was in charge on the day to explain the police tactics.
Inspector Martin said:
- Intelligence gathered had led them to believe that there would be “significant public disorder” if rival fans were allowed to meet after the game.
- Various options had been considered to ensure that this didn’t happen and that the only viable option was the Sangley Road option.
- Plans were in place to erect barriers and use Sangley Road but that the final decision to do so was only made during the game when reports of vandalism within the stadium were received.
- From the police point of view the operation had been a success as “no-one had left in an ambulance”.
- The same tactics would probably be used again in future for high risk games.
This was not received well by the meeting. The Sangley Road residents were appalled that the damage and anxiety they suffered seemed to be treated as the least worst option. In particular, because this had all happened before when Palace played Brighton. Although there was inevitably some anger expressed towards individual Charlton supporters who caused the damage, there was general consensus that this was almost entirely avoidable and provoked by the police tactics.
It was not an easy meeting to manage and, to his credit, Chief Superintendent Wood did succeed in ensuring that most people were able to express their views even if they didn’t feel their questions were fully answered.
A particular frustration was that it was rarely possible to probe critically the answers which Inspector Martin gave. When asked about alternative options he simply repeated that Sangley Road was the only viable option. When asked about keeping supporters in the stadium he said, without elaboration, that the layout of the stadium did not allow for keeping fans inside. When asked whether the police tactics might have been disproportionate he just reiterated that intelligence received suggested there was a risk of serious public disorder.
When the formal meeting closed there was a short time for one-to-one conversations between attendees and the various police representatives and between supporters and local residents. It may be that this was more constructive than the meeting itself. It certainly appears that Chief Supt Wood is open to further dialogue and, having not been involved on the day, is less defensive about the whole operation. The CAFC Police Intelligence Officer Jason Evans was also at the meeting and said that he was keen to meet again to take the matter further.
CAS Trust would like to see better communication with the police, and where possible meetings of this sort to highlight and discuss issues. How hard can it be to use a megaphone? We are aware of the difficulties Police face but we also think that the vast majority of well behaved fans should be treated properly, and that certain tactics are inappropriate and completely counterproductive. We will be continuing to pursue lines of communication and will provide further reports in future.