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Champions League Final: Paris

Volume 715: debated on Monday 6 June 2022

To ask the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on the significant problems arising at the champions league final on 28 May in Paris.

On 28 May, Liverpool football club played Real Madrid in the final of the champions league. The fixture was held at the Stade de France in Paris, and on this occasion Real Madrid won the match 1-0. It is not the result that makes the fixture worthy of debate, but the spectator experience.

The start of the fixture was delayed due to a number of crowd safety issues outside the ground. Those issues prevented safe and timely access to the stadium for many thousands of Liverpool fans. Members across the House will, like me, have been appalled to hear of the terrifying and potentially dangerous conditions experienced by many Liverpool fans. In fact, we all saw the visuals on social media. What should have been a celebration of the pinnacle of European club football will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. I am shocked and concerned by what has come to light.

I welcome the fact that, as the Secretary of State and I—and many hon. Members—requested, UEFA has commissioned an independent investigation, and issued an apology to fans who attended the final. The French Sports Minister has also commissioned a review of the delivery of the event, and I will be discussing that with her later this week. The French Government will also be supporting the UEFA investigation. They have called for sanctions against any police officers who misused tear gas and confirmed that they will pursue compensation for fans who had a valid ticket but were unable to enter the stadium.

UEFA has confirmed that it will launch a new complaints procedure for fans to present evidence, and Liverpool FC is collating fan experiences, via its website, to contribute to the UEFA investigation. I urge fans to send accounts of their experiences to the club. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities and Liverpool FC.

The footage and accounts from Liverpool fans and the media on their entry to the Stade de France on 28 May have been deeply upsetting. Thousands of Liverpool fans travelled to Paris in good time to support their team in one of the biggest matches of the season, and we are hugely disappointed by how they were treated. Fans deserve to know what happened, and it is absolutely right that the relevant authorities are now fully investigating the events. The investigations must establish the facts so that the authorities can learn lessons from the event and ensure that we do not see scenes like that ever again.

I was there last Saturday in Paris. I was also there at Hillsborough in 1989. I can say, without any shadow of doubt, that if it was not for the magnificent efforts of the Liverpool supporters last Saturday, we could have had a disaster worse than Hillsborough. Last Saturday in Paris, I witnessed first hand shambolic stadium management and the most hostile policing environment at a sporting event I have ever seen. I watched children getting pepper-sprayed, pensioners getting tear-gassed, and turnstiles and exits shut while thousands queued for hours waiting to attend the blue riband football occasion of the season. We were treated like animals for wanting to watch a game of football. Then, shamefully, the smears and lies, straight from the Hillsborough playbook, were used by the authorities to avoid accountability for the horrific events. Never, ever again should this be tolerated, in this country or around the globe. Enough is enough.

Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will make representations to UEFA, following the calls of Liverpool football club, Real Madrid football club and the Liverpool supporters trust, for a full and truly independent inquiry into the events at the Stade de France, which could easily have cost the lives of UK citizens? Will he also call on the French Government and UEFA to retract the attempts to smear Liverpool football club supporters without any verifiable evidence to substantiate the claims, and will he engage with his French counterpart to ensure that UK citizens, including many children, are never, ever treated with such brutality and force by French police for simply attending a football match?

I thank the hon. Member for raising all those points. I appreciate his dedication to all things football and his expertise in the area; I understand he was one of the founders of Spirit of Shankly and he speaks wisely on these issues—always in support of fans. I think the whole House will be making that point clear today.

We have regular dialogue with UEFA, including discussing the plans for the women’s Euros this year; we also have a bid in for future events. Both I and officials will raise the issues outlined by the hon. Gentleman, including when I speak to the French Sports Minister this week. The immediate response from certain people was unfortunate. There seemed to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction that was not necessarily based on the facts. Of course, what we have all seen is what appears to be considerably disproportionate behaviour on behalf of some people and entities of which we would expect more.

I am confident that there will be a thorough review, which must be transparent. I do not want to pre-empt its conclusions, but I hope that all the information will be gathered. I repeat: if any fans have evidence—experience, footage and so on—they should please send it to Liverpool FC. I look forward to seeing the results of the investigation. We will be keeping a close eye on developments, as, I am sure, will the whole House.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this urgent question and for his powerful testimony of his experience.

The champions league final last Saturday was chaotic, scary and atrociously managed. Before the match, huge queues formed, as most turnstiles were closed. Police tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed fans who were waiting patiently. Fans were targeted by local criminal gangs as police stood by. Many never even got in, or left for fear of their children’s safety. To add insult to injury, the authorities immediately blamed English fans; they said that Liverpool supporters turned up late with fake tickets. The crushing outside the ground and the response—blaming fans—brought back the trauma of Hillsborough. British supporters have been mistreated and wronged. It is up to the Government to establish the facts and ensure that lessons are learned.

This is now the third major UEFA event in less than two years to come close to an even more serious incident. Has the Minister established why UEFA got things so wrong and why it took until Friday to apologise? Questions also remain over UEFA’s independent review, as the chair is a close friend of the president of UEFA. Will the Minister ensure that it gets to the truth and holds those responsible to account?

UEFA has now at least apologised, but the French authorities remain entrenched. What will the Minister do to get his counterpart to apologise and understand that they were in the wrong? France is due to host the rugby World cup and the Olympic games. Does the Minister agree that the French authorities’ handling of the final puts in doubt their ability to host such events in the future?

Finally, what happened in Paris reminds us once again that justice and lessons learned from Hillsborough still have not happened. When will the Government enact the Hillsborough law and respond to Bishop James’s report?

The hon. Lady is right that we all welcome the apology we have received from UEFA. I will be speaking to the French Sports Minister and will relay the messages from this House to her when I do, hopefully as early as tomorrow.

The hon. Lady is right: while there may have been, as is unfortunately often the case with football, some small incidents of bad behaviour by a really small number of fans, the reality that we have seen and all the evidence we have heard so far would suggest that the vast majority of the fans behaved impeccably and waited patiently outside the stadium to get in, and that many then did not even make it in.

There were clearly some logistical challenges that require explanation, but we have not seen any clear justification from UEFA or the French authorities for the scenes on the ground or the limited access to the stadium for Liverpool fans. In particular, we have seen the impact on the young and the elderly of being inexplicably attacked with tear gas and unable to get to watch the games. I am also particularly concerned about reports that some of the media were asked to delete footage of incidents they observed. That also requires explanation.

The hon. Lady raises many important questions; we do not have all the answers yet, but I am confident that the investigation will be thorough and transparent, and we will be keeping a very close eye on developments.

It is only because of the calmness and forbearance of Liverpool fans at the Stade de France that nobody was killed. Let us be clear about that. Does the Minister understand that the immediate resorting by UEFA and French authorities to old, baseless Hillsborough slurs—“Liverpool fans were late! They were ticketless!”—in conjunction with the disgustingly hostile policing has exacerbated trauma and brought back terrible memories for many of my constituents who have been in touch with me: both those who were caught in the crush, and those watching at home who have a connection to the Hillsborough disaster, as thousands of people in Liverpool do?

Does the Minister agree that official recognition by UEFA and the French Government of the truth of what happened, at the earliest possible moment, is essential to prevent that trauma from getting worse? Will he therefore use his good offices to insist that Liverpool fans’ representatives have a role in the official inquiries that take place, to establish the truth and to stop cover-ups?

The hon. Lady speaks eloquently and passionately about the human impact that incidents such as this have. This brings back some terrible memories for many people. I think UEFA does understand that. She is also right to ensure that Liverpool fans have their say here. I encourage Liverpool fans to submit information to Liverpool FC, and I thank Liverpool FC for facilitating that information-gathering, which I understand will be passed on to the UEFA investigation.

Simultaneously, the French authorities are conducting an investigation. I repeat that the inappropriate behaviour of a few fans is as nothing compared with the huge impact on thousands of people who were behaving perfectly at the event and were treated abominably.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) on securing this urgent question and on the way he has represented the fans over the last week.

We need an apology from UEFA and French authorities for the chillingly familiar, knee-jerk lies blaming Liverpool fans, and we need the investigations, but I want to share with the House a few emails and comments I have had from constituents. Anthony said:

“We were very close to a disaster on Saturday night...we were being crushed, pushed, intimidated and assaulted.

It felt like an act of intimidation to get a reaction from fans.”

Suzanne said:

“I was crying and scared. My legs were like jelly. I was just in shock. For the first time in my life I felt old and vulnerable.”

Jon said that the police were behaving like

“thugs looking for a fight”.

Contrary to the narrative put out by French authorities, he believes that it was only

“the calm behaviour of the fans”

in not retaliating that

“saved events from turning fatal”.

What can the Minister do to ensure that the promised investigations get to the truth?

I thank the hon. Member for his input and for sharing the harrowing experiences of some fans. Although I was not able to attend the event, I was, sadly, receiving live feeds of information from people texting me to tell me of really quite alarming experiences.

As I said, it is really important that we get to the truth and get to the bottom of what happened, and the French authorities and UEFA are committed to doing that. I join the hon. Member in thanking the fans who helped each other out. In particular, I understand that there was a lot of activity to protect children, the elderly and the disabled; that speaks volumes about the friendship and camaraderie of Liverpool fans when at home or abroad. I agree with the hon. Member and will make it very clear that we expect to get the full and complete story of what happened so that it does not happen again.

For too long, those at the head of football, whether it is FIFA, UEFA or the FA, have treated football fans as if they are the enemy—as if they are something that has to be tolerated but not to be worked with. If fans were involved in the organisation of the control of crowds around such matches and there was early intervention, with discussions about the issues among police from this country and fans’ groups from this country, we might be able to create an environment that was much more safe and where the police did not react in such a violent way. There is no doubt that the way the police reacted to the crowd added to the problem, if it did not cause it in the first place.

I largely agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman, although it is slightly unfair to characterise it as if everybody in football treats fans as the enemy. Many entities and organisations try to bring fans on board to the greatest extent—of course, the fan-led review of football is trying to embed that to an even greater degree—and some clubs engage very carefully and closely with fans.

When any such investigation happens, it is important that we all learn lessons. We saw incidents at Wembley last year, and the Casey review highlighted some areas for improvement. Last week, particularly acute circumstances impacted fans in a really quite dramatic and drastic way, and the French authorities and UEFA have a responsibility to take the lead on that. We then all need to learn lessons, and that goes for individuals, clubs, Governments, the police and so on, internationally. As I said, I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of the review but we will keep a very close eye on it.

I, too, commend my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for securing this urgent question and for the work he has done, and I commend the impeccable behaviour of the Liverpool fans.

I want to talk about my constituent Liam Griffiths. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), I have been contacted by many constituents who were in Paris. Liam and his son were there for the champions league final. Liam was struck by a brick thrown by a mob of local Parisian youths as the police lost all control of the situation and started indiscriminately to tear-gas peaceful fans. He recalls a mess of a situation from start to finish as the French police woefully failed to manage the event hours before kick-off and in the immediate aftermath.

As a club and a city, we have been here before, so collectively—I include the UK Government in this—we have a duty to nip smears and lies in the bud before they permeate. Liam and I want to know whether the British Government have already asked for clarity and evidence from our French counterparts on the claims of ticketless fans and ticket fraud. I have seen no evidence to date. Will the UK Government be demanding an apology from the French Government, who have doubled down on their own warped reality? Our fans must not be used as a political scapegoat for failed politicians who seek to save their own skin before French parliamentary elections in just a week’s time.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and am sorry that her constituents had such a harrowing experience. Again, I encourage everybody who had such experiences to please feed that information into Liverpool FC so that it will be fed through to the investigation. I shall make the points raised here in the Chamber, and others, to the French Minister when I speak to her. Conversations are ongoing, both through officials and at ministerial level across multiple Departments.

The hon. Lady is right about how disappointing and frustrating this situation is, because sport should be something that brings us together. It should be a joy and something around which we can all unite. It is so disappointing and disheartening that fans have had to experience something so harrowing.

I also extend my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this important urgent question. I want to put on the record my disgust and anger at how the fans were treated and at the responses from those in charge who pointed the finger of blame at Liverpool fans, which was far too reminiscent of Hillsborough. Like other hon. Members, I have received personal testimonies from my constituents, including from Olivia, who went to the match with her dad, a survivor of Hillsborough, who still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She said:

“Blaming fans for late arrival and causing crushes by the opening and closing of gates is a terrifying parallel to the Hillsborough disaster.”

Will the Minister agree to recall the French ambassador and demand an independent inquiry and a full apology—not just for the violent and brutal policing, but for the lies told by Ministers when they blamed Liverpool fans for what happened?

As the hon. Lady has articulated, and as we are hearing again and again from colleagues in the Chamber today, the specific evidence just does not tally with some of the comments that we heard immediately following or during the match. The overwhelming evidence is of fans behaving incredibly well and in a civilised way. They are therefore blameless, but were treated then with a disproportionately aggressive response. I do not want to pre-empt the conclusions of the investigation, but what I have seen so far raises many questions, and we will be keeping an incredibly close eye on this, as I have said. I appreciate her comments.

Let us be clear: the events in Paris were utterly appalling, but they are all too emblematic of the complete and utter disdain with which football fans are treated, both at home and, indeed, abroad. Hopefully, this will be a simple question for the Minister. In the discussions that he has had with UEFA since, has it shown any remorse? Does it even care?

UEFA has apologised and, per the calls of many in this House—myself, the Secretary of State and many others—it has now launched an investigation, and we welcome that investigation. The hon. Gentleman is raising an important point about the central role of fans. As I have said repeatedly, fans should be at the centre—at the heart—of football and treated with respect. If it were not for the fans, football would not exist. Many people make a lot of money out of football, and they should never forget that they are only there because of the fans.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this urgent question. The treatment of Liverpool fans in Paris was nothing short of shocking and an utter disgrace. It was going back to the dark days when football fans were treated as criminals.

Many constituents have got in touch with me about their awful experiences. It is not the first time that we have seen barbaric police treatment abroad. In future, will the Government make sure that they have spoken to their counterparts abroad, ahead of any upcoming football games—whether it be the champions league or the World cup—to make sure that British football fans are better protected and respected?

The hon. Lady makes some important points. The misbehaviour of a few fans should not taint the whole of football; she is absolutely right. We do co-ordinate regularly with UEFA, football authorities and other policing authorities. As I think I said in answer to an earlier question, we all need to make sure that we learn from any findings that come from the experience in Paris, in the same way, hopefully, as everybody will learn from what happened, unfortunately, in Wembley last year. It is important that we all share learnings from events such as this.

I declare an interest as a member of Spirit of Shankly supporters club. May I express my concern that we are talking about an investigation rather than a full, independent inquiry? Following on from what others have said, the most important voices to be heard in any investigation are those of the fans. Will the Government consider what support they can give to those fans’ groups to make sure that they are properly represented at this inquiry? As with all inquiries now, they may well need legal representation and they will need resourcing for that.

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about making sure that the voice of the fans is clearly heard. However, I am confident about that it will be because I understand that a fair volume of information, data and video footage has already been sent to Liverpool FC, which will then be sent on to UEFA. As I have said, we will keep a close eye on that. If we have concerns that information or data are being missed, we will raise it with the appropriate authorities, because it is vital that this investigation is thorough and is seen to be thorough.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this urgent question, and for speaking with such powerful insights. Many fans from my constituency—mums, dads, nans and grandads—went along with their children, as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and never got into the game, as the Minister said. Then they were criminalised and blamed, as we have seen throughout recent history—not long-term history but recent history—for the bad organisation and the appalling police behaviour. What assurances can the Minister give on ensuring that the investigation—as my hon. Friend said, it is not an independent inquiry—is robust and independent? And yes, as the shadow Secretary of State said, we do need a Hillsborough law.

UEFA announced over the weekend the terms of reference of the review, which looks pretty comprehensive, but we will be keeping a close eye on it. I will share the points raised in the Chamber today with the French authorities when I speak to them. We will make sure that we keep a close eye on this so that it is thorough. It is really important that fans feel that their voice is heard. As I have said repeatedly: please, fans, do share information with the appropriate authorities. I echo the point that the hon. Gentleman raised about children, in particular, being impacted by this at an early stage of their life when we want them to become football fans. These kinds of experiences can put them off, and we really do not want that.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this important urgent question, and for his tireless representation of fans against these baseless smears. I too had the privilege of being in Paris with my dad on the night of the final, not at the stadium itself but at a nearby fan zone. Even there, fans were tear-gassed, while outside the stadium families were pepper-sprayed, with children brought to tears, and fans crammed together like cattle. I truly believe that, as other Members have said, were it not for the calmness of Liverpool fans, that night could have ended in real tragedy. That is what makes it so grotesque to see French politicians, UEFA and parts of the media lie and blame Liverpool fans for what happened, evoking traumatic memories of Hillsborough for so many. I saw absolutely no evidence of bad behaviour from Liverpool fans or fans in general. Will the Minister join me in calling for all these smears to be retracted and for a full apology from the French Government, and will he push for a full and genuinely independent inquiry into the night’s events?

I share the hon. Lady’s applauding of the behaviour of fans. She raises an important point as one of the people who arrived in Paris without a ticket, who are usually welcomed. That is usually a good thing where people can absorb the atmosphere. We welcome people coming to the UK for football events even if they have not got tickets, if they behave well and then spend money in pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels, which is good for the economy. These sporting events are really important. People do not always need an actual ticket to the event in order to experience it in the area, but that should happen well and smoothly, and it needs to be well organised. On all these things, as I said, we need some real, important lessons to be learned.

My constituent Tom, who is a Liverpool-supporting journalist, was at the match working and was pepper-sprayed while he was undertaking an interview. My constituents Linda and Josh were part of a crowd that was tear-gassed after the game when they were moving away from the stadium. Part of Linda’s group—her sister and husband—were robbed in their car. Locals smashed their windows and took her bag containing passports. Linda herself had her purse stolen from her bag. Harriet and Craig, also my constituents, turned up. Craig got his ticket grabbed off him by a local French thug and they had to wrestle it back. Liverpool fans were getting threats of assault from the thugs for protecting their own tickets. We have heard that the French Interior Minister has suggested that 40,000 Liverpool fans turned up without tickets, but there has been no evidence to back up that claim. Does the Minister agree that the French Interior Minister would do a lot better dealing with the real issues of crime and violence in his own backyard rather than trying to blame innocent football supporters?

Again, I thank the hon. Member for those comments. We are hearing harrowing evidence from several Members in the Chamber, which I hope will be fed into the investigations. It is important that that happens. What is also concerning about the evidence he has given is that it is about what happened not only around the stadium, but further afield, elsewhere in Paris. It is important that that is taken into account in the investigation. I can commit to making sure that I communicate all these messages to my opposite numbers in France.

Chaotic organisation, overzealous policing and the fans getting the blame: that is happening far too often and we are all absolutely sick of it. We do not want it to be repeated. I know that the Minister has expressed confidence in the UEFA investigation; I have to say that I am not as confident as he is that it will be impartial, but it certainly needs to be thorough, it needs to have the fan’s voice throughout and it needs to get to the truth, because if history tells us anything, it is that Liverpool fans will not give up until the truth is told. He must send that message to UEFA.

The hon. Gentleman has sent a clear message to me and I will pass it on. I am confident because, for the good of football, we all need to take these incidents incredibly seriously. We have had an apology from UEFA. I am hearing the points from colleagues today about their disappointment, which I share, in the tone that we initially got from some of the French authorities. I think we would like to see more. I hope that we will get to the bottom of the truth. As I say, I do not want to pre-empt the conclusions of the investigation, but the anecdotal evidence that we have heard today paints a pretty dark picture.

I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for asking this UQ. My Liverpool-supporting constituent Amy Shimmin travelled to what was her third European football final and her 10th game abroad, and said that she has never been so scared for her safety and that of her fellow fans as she was last week. She particularly feared for fans with disabilities, who struggled to get into the stadium. Can the Minister tell me what specific conversations he has had with UEFA and his French counterparts regarding fan safety, particularly the use of pepper spray and tear gas in crowded areas, which was wholly inappropriate in the circumstances?

Again, I thank the hon. Lady, who has showcased the fact that Liverpool fans exist way beyond Liverpool—indeed, across the country and the world. We are having multiple conversations at official and ministerial level. The Home Office is having conversations with its counterparts and I will be having conversations with the Sports Minister of France and with UEFA. The day after the incident, I had conversations with the FA and the Premier League, which are also having conversations—there are lots of conversations going on. I think the whole House agrees that conversations are one thing, but we need to get to the bottom of the truth, we want to hear a bit more of an apology, and we want to learn lessons from this terrible incident.

I say to everyone that I thought it was important to grant the UQ today; I think everybody’s constituency has a Liverpool fan in it. I say to the Minister—I know he was pleased to answer the UQ—that hopefully, when he gets some answers, he will come forward with a statement. Let us move on the next UQ; I will let people leave the Chamber.