Police respond to Millwall match concerns

The CAS Trust have recently contacted the Metropolitan Police regarding concerns with the policing at the Charlton v Millwall match on Saturday 14th January.

This specifically relates to the lack of separation between home and away fans following the full-time whistle.

We have received a prompt and detailed reply from Joseph McDonald Superintendent, Greenwich Police. The response shows that the police have listened to the serious concerns raised by CAS Trust and have taken steps to learn the required lessons. In particular, the Superintendent has confirmed “I will ensure your feedback is fed into the planning for when the two teams next play each other at the Valley”.

A copy of our question and the replies is below:

Dear Mr Kleinfeld

Thank you for your letter regarding the policing after the Millwall match which has been passed to me by CAFC. I was the police commander with overall responsibility for the match day policing and I am writing to respond to your questions which I will deal with in turn.

1) Why were the Millwall fans not held back in the stadium while Charlton fans dispersed?

The option of holding back the Millwall fans in the ground post-match was something that was considered as an option in the planning stage (the police had discussed the option with the club in a meeting in the week leading up to the game) and remained a consideration during the game as well. However, there are a lot of factors that need to be considered prior to deciding on holding back fans including such factors as: how that will affect the post-match public transport; and the circumstances it could lead to inside the ground amongst others. However, the single biggest factor has to be that holding back fans, in law, amounts to a detention of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom we know are law-abiding football fans. I need to be sure that the appropriate legal thresholds have been met to justify that detention and in doing so consider factors such as tensions or violence pre-match, previous fixtures between the clubs and issues during the game amongst many other things. In weighing up all those various factors and knowing we had other ways to manage the crowd post-match, I did not elect to hold back the Millwall fans.

2) At the very least, why were Millwall fans not held in Valley Grove and /or Charlton fans held in Harvey Gardens before being allowed to enter Floyd Road in a controlled manner? The geography would easily enable this, avoiding a large, mixed crowd.

The specific option of holding CAFC fans in Harvey Gardens was discounted in the pre-match planning stage for a number of reasons. In terms of holding back Millwall fans in Valley Grove, this was an option under consideration throughout the planning stage and throughout the game. However, many of the same considerations for holding back fans there apply to a hold back in the ground. It is worth noting that a large, mixed crowd in Valley Grove is not in itself a problem. I have acted as the police commander for a number of games at CAFC with comparable crowds (in terms of size) and have never needed to use a hold back system. The presence of Mounted in Floyd Road and officers at the top of the road is normally sufficient to manage a large, mixed crowd in Floyd Road. I was of course mindful that this fixture carried extra risks because of the local derby element but these were all factors that had to be weighed up at the time.

3) What was the sudden justification for penning in a very large mixed group of fans in Floyd Road?

A specific group of fans who we were concerned about appeared at the junction of Floyd Road in Charlton Church Lane. It was calculated by the senior officer at the location that there was a serious risk of violence occurring should that group meet the crowd coming up Floyd Road. That officer took the decision that putting a cordon in place for a very short period while the group were moved away from the junction was the most effective way to prevent an outbreak of violence. In relation to your point about trouble at the pub up the road, that had occurred earlier but issues arising out of that played a part in this decision.

4) Once that decision had been taken, what, if anything, was being done to avoid a crush?

The senior officer who took that decision was at the scene and able to keep the situation under constant assessment. They knew the cordon would only be in place for a very short period. They were also able to release the crowd instantly should the need have arisen as the senior officer was standing at the location directing the officers who had the cordon in place. It was a simple process for the officers to step aside to release the cordon. As you note, we took steps to communicate with the crowd.

5) If trouble had broken out within the crowd how would police have dealt with this in such a packed and mixed environment without serious risk of fear, alarm and injury to peaceful, uninvolved law abiding supporters?

The senior officer at the location had to weigh up the risk of violence that would occur if he did not put that cordon in place against the risk if he did put it in place. The calculation was the greater risk would have been to have let the crowd proceed at that particular point. If the balance in that decision-making changed, he would have had a number of options with the main one being to release the cordon. There was a police presence in Floyd Road (as you note, Mounted were there) as well as Charlton Church Lane.

I hope this answers your questions. I will ensure your feedback is fed into the planning for when the two teams next play each other at the Valley. My personal belief is that there is generally a good relationship between CAFC fans and the local police and I have sought to answer your questions thoroughly in that spirit. I look forward to that relationship continuing.

Yours sincerely

Joseph McDonald

Superintendent, Greenwich Police