Trouble at Villa Park: 46 arrested after 'disgusting' violence injures four police officers
Police have arrested 46 people after facing "disgusting and highly dangerous scenes" outside Villa Park on Thursday evening. One officer was taken to hospital with burns, and two others were injured, when violence broke out with Legia Warsaw supporters before Thursday’s Europa Conference League tie with Aston Villa.
Legia supporters threw flares, bottles, tree branches and other assorted objects at mounted officers as tempers flared outside the stadium in "90 minutes of sustained violence" before the scheduled 8pm kick-off, in what Villa later described as “planned and systematic acts” of violence. A total of 14 people needed treatment from paramedics during the evening.
West Midlands Police said it believes the violence was sparked when tickets were not given out to away fans outside the ground. The allocation of tickets to Legia fans had already been cut to 1,000 at the police and the Safety Advisory Group (SAG)'s recommendation.
Villa and Legia had initially agreed for the Polish club to have 1,700 tickets, 400 fewer than they would normally be allowed under Uefa rules, after the authorities expressed concern over Legia fans’ track record of causing trouble. The recommendation to reduce that to 1,000 came after trouble flared at Legia’s match at AZ Alkmaar earlier in the competition, but the club's supporters said they were being unfairly discriminated against.
Four police officers were injured on Thursday night, as well as two police horses and two police dogs. The force said one officer's fluorescent jacket caught fire after they were hit with a flare, but was able to remove it before being injured. He was then taken to hospital with smoke inhalation after the smoke from the flare made it into his helmet. Another officer suffered a minor hand injury in the disorder.
All 46 people arrested are Legia Warsaw have been detained on suspicion of offences including violent disorder and assaulting a police officer. All have been taken into custody for questioning.
Chief Inspector Tim Robinson, match commander, said: "This should have been a great evening of football which was enjoyed by fans from both clubs. Unfortunately, there were appalling scenes which saw away fans dangerously throw flares and other missiles at our officers. We were there to help keep people safe, yet officers own safety was put at risk because of the deplorable actions of others.
"Due to the extreme violence, there was no other choice but to prevent away fans entering the stadium. The safety of everyone is our priority, and clearly we had no other option. There can never be a place for such appalling behaviour, and this is something ourselves and the wider community should never have to experience."
Assistant Chief Constable Damian Barratt added: "This was appalling and completely unacceptable disorder. What we saw was 90 minutes of planned violence, with one officer saying it was the worst he had seen in 28 years of policing. Our officers bravely put themselves in harm's way and I would like to commend each and every one of them for their efforts.
"We are committed to charging and remanding any and all responsible for attacking our officers and endangering the public. We had no issues with the home fans and would like to thank them and Aston Villa for their support and kind words last night and this morning.
"The only issues inside the ground last night were from a small number of away fans who had managed to get into home areas. We will be liaising with the club and footballing authorities in the coming days to discuss last night's appalling scenes."
West Midlands Police said it kept a presence in and around Villa Park, and this remains in the surrounding city centre to maintain safety.
West Midlands Ambulance Service said it treated for 14 people before, during and after the match. A spokesperson said: "Ten patients were treated and discharged by ambulance staff for minor injuries such as cuts and bruising outside the ground. In addition, four police officers were also assessed and treated with one conveyed to hospital as a precaution."