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SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Only Liverpool fans’ memory of Hillsborough stopped another disaster in Paris

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The Mail on Sunday can reveal how close the chaotic scenes at the Champions League final and the breakdown of law and order came to causing fatalities after compiling a damning dossier of evidence on the controversial night in Paris.

Liverpool supporters caught up in huge crushes outside the Stade de France last Saturday only avoided serious injury because the memory of the Hillsborough disaster prompted them to act with unusual caution, our investigation has been told by crowd control experts.

This newspaper has also established that the French police still do not consider there was anything unusual about their tactics of kettling supporters into narrow gaps even though that technique has been described as a death trap by one of the UK’s leading scientists on crowd dynamics.

Testimony from scores of supporters who have contacted The Mail on Sunday points to a massive IT failure having contributed to the chaos, directly contradicting the claims of the French police who, it can be revealed, have launched a legal case to prove mass ticket fraud.

The fallout to the shocking scenes in Paris, which now see it ranked among the worst-managed European events since Hillsborough, where 97 fans died, and the dystopian scenes of brutal violence meted out by Parisian gangs on fans of both sides have made the chaos a major political issue in France for President Emmanuel Macron, with the Olympics just two years away.

The Mail on Sunday’s reporting last weekend has been repeatedly cited in France as a primary source to challenge interior minister Gerald Darmanin’s contested claim that 40,000 ticketless fans were responsible for the breakdown, with renowned newspaper Le Monde using our video footage as part of their data investigation into the near-tragedy. The MoS spent the week collating fresh evidence, having been contacted by many fans, and will present all their testimony to the independent inquiry that UEFA have commissioned.

A Mail on Sunday report has shown little has been learned from Hillsborough disaster in 1989

Sportsmail's special investigation has looked into the chaos of May's Champions League final

Sportsmail’s special investigation has looked into the chaos of May’s Champions League final

Our other key findings reveal:

  •  The sheer brutality of the violence perpetrated on Liverpool and Real Madrid fans who were attacked by French-speaking youths, as armed gangs — some with iron bars — committed muggings and assaults, both physical and sexual, despite the strong police presence;
  • The police tactics in kettling fans into a narrow corridor created a death trap and could have resulted in serial fatalities within minutes;
  • A growing body of evidence that a major technology meltdown in scanning tickets exacerbated the initial chaos;
  • Fans using Stade de France Saint-Denis station should have been dispersed around the stadium in different routes but, with no signs or guidance from stewards, almost all of the 37,000 ended up walking towards Gate X, causing the crush;
  • Under-pressure police commander on the night, Didier Lallement, has filed a legal case alleging massive organised fraud — yet UEFA say that only 2,589 fans with fake tickets attempted access and Stade de France sources put the number at 2,800.

Liverpool legend Alan Kennedy joined those who have described their experience of the chaos. He needed to escape the crush by clearing a fence and admitted he feared for his safety.

‘If it wasn’t for my son and if it wasn’t for the people helping me get over the fence — and it was a metal fence which was difficult to get over — then I would have been in serious trouble,’ Kennedy, who scored the winning goal in Paris against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final, told CNN.

The MoS was also contacted by scores of witnesses, whose evidence reveals an astonishing lack of preparedness by the authorities and systemic failures around technology and crowd control as well as the horrifying attacks post-match on Real Madrid and Liverpool fans.

Mail on Sunday evidence brought the conclusion serial fatalities were only narrowly avoided

Mail on Sunday evidence brought the conclusion serial fatalities were only narrowly avoided

The Stade de France scandal is now a major political embarrassment for Macron, who says that he was ‘outraged’ by the disorder and wants fans who were barred entry to receive financial compensation. 

His centrist alliance Ensemble face National Assembly elections this month and the nation’s ability to host major sporting events safely is now an electoral issue, with a year until the Rugby World Cup and two years until the 2024 Paris Olympics, both of which are centred on the Stade de France.

UEFA have also apologised to supporters and it is understood that key officials have confirmed they witnessed no bad behaviour from Liverpool fans and that they will now seek to compensate all those with tickets who were denied access. 

Although it has not been acknowledged publicly, it is accepted at UEFA that the stadium announcement blaming the delay on the late arrival of fans was incorrect: fans had arrived on time but were locked out.

It was said only supporters' memories of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 stopped a repeat

It was said only supporters’ memories of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 stopped a repeat

They say that there was a decisive shift in police tactics when local youths attempted to gain entry to the ground after 8pm. At this point, indiscriminate tear-gassing began.

UEFA stress they relied on French authorities for information. The ruling body have commissioned an independent report into the multiple security breakdowns. It will be headed by Dr Tiago Brandao Rodrigues, a former minister for education in Portugal.

Professor Keith Still, who runs Crowd Risk Analysis Ltd, developed an MSc in crowd safety, was consultant at Olympic Games at Sydney 2000 and London 2012 and the 2011 Royal Wedding and was an expert witness for the Hillsborough inquiry, contacted the MoS. He believes that only the shared collective memory of the Hillsborough disaster saved the crowd from multiple fatalities because it prevented fans from pushing, which is not how fans usually behave under such pressure.

The key crush came under a motorway bridge at the south-west corner of the stadium leading to Gate X, where police had deliberately parked their vans to narrow access to a three to four-metre gap. 

Professor Still has examined our video evidence and said: ‘High density pressure is my specific area of study. It is a very dangerous thing to do. It’s what causes fatalities. When you’re in a crush zone, it takes about 30 seconds to lose consciousness if you get constrictive or restrictive asphyxia. Within about six minutes you’re brain dead. Whenever you funnel a large number of people down to a narrow space there is that inherent risk. It’s basic crowd planning. You would never do it in any area. 

‘Any slip or fall in that environment would have been catastrophic. Look at the queue design. I’m using that now as an example for my courses. This is not how to do it.’ French police told the MoS it was normal practice and there was nothing unusual.

Still said: ‘I think the shared psyche of Hillsborough was one of the primary factors that saved lives. Those fans knew that if they pushed forward, they could die and therefore backed off. I don’t see the same sort of forward impetus against these crush points that I have seen in other mass fatalities.

‘Another set of supporters may not have shared that psyche. Because of that, a major incident has been averted as I don’t see any evidence of authorities taking proactive steps to keep the crowd safe. I do see evidence of the crowd themselves not typically behaving the way a crowd would normally behave in that situation.’

97 fans were killed in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium 33 years ago

Asked if he considered the crowd control at this point to be a death trap, Still said: ‘Yes. If the crowd pressure built up on the approach — it’s only a few minutes before there is a significant risk to life and limb.’

Still suspects that a systematic breakdown of control was due to a failure to plan. Foremost among these failures was that 37,000 fans tried to access the stadium from Stade de France RER station on line D, which is four times more than the usual number. A sell-out concert on May 21 saw only 9,100 fans pass through that station. The partially-closed station on RER B, La Plaine Stade de France was used by 6,200 fans. Usually it would service 21,000 supporters.

According to Le Monde’s investigation, the figures provided by the transport authorities contradict the French government’s claims. Darmanin has said 110,000 fans headed to Stade de France with 73,000 using public transport. But SNCF and RATP, the relevant transport authorities, say that 43,200 fans passed through the two RER stations. And though they don’t have the figures yet for the two Metro stations on line 13, also a key hub, it would be extraordinary if another 67,000 fans accessed the game from those stations and by car.

Severe crowding before the European showpiece on Saturday May 28 brought back memories

Severe crowding before the European showpiece on Saturday May 28 brought back memories

The Liverpool fan park, meanwhile, which was designed to house ticketless fans and which had a capacity of 44,000, was closed by 9pm local time because it was full to capacity. There were no significant numbers outside Stade de France by 10pm — 25 minutes into the game — casting further doubt on Darmanin’s claims that 40,000 ticketless fans attempted access.

That initial lack of crowd management was then exacerbated by an extraordinary signage mishap. Though Liverpool fans were meant to head to the south-east corner of their end, towards gates Z, A and B, there were no stewards, police nor signs directing them on that route. In fact, the only signs to the stadium there encouraged them to head to the south-west corner, to Gate X, where the crush built up.

Almost all the 37,000 fans from the station headed for this spot, where, after the crush under the motorway bridge, there was a line of five aisles for an initial ticket and security check at the bottom of the ramp up to the stadium, with around two stewards per aisle, one to search and one to scan tickets.

Still said: ‘When you look at the rate fans are arriving and the rate they’re going through, it was never going to work. Ticket check is faster than the pat-down so you need to provide significantly more pat-down areas than ticket check areas but they matched that one for one.’

The final was also marred by widespread videos of police kettling and tear-gassing supporters

The final was also marred by widespread videos of police kettling and tear-gassing supporters

Aj Ahmed, a partially sighted fan, said that he had to climb over a 6ft wall to escape the crush and was tear-gassed. 

Ahmed, 41, from Worcester and an Anfield season-ticket holder, told the MOS: ‘I have experienced chocka [extreme] crowds but this was on a different level. You could sense it and I said it to my mate. 

‘In the [previous Champions League] finals in Kiev and Madrid [which also featured Liverpool] the fans were singing on the way up but the atmosphere was really quiet and more like people trying to say calm. If Hillsborough hadn’t happened to us, I think you would have had fatalities.’

Real Madrid fans experienced similar kettling and long queues to access their end. However, they were dispersed across the north-east and north-west gates, whereas almost all the Liverpool fans and many neutrals were directed to one gate. That was compounded by a technological meltdown. 

The MoS has witness accounts of scanners failing to work with legitimate tickets. We have verified the tickets were genuine by examining photos and emails. The problem affected both paper and digital tickets.

UEFA has 'sincerely' apologised to all fans affected by the chaotic events late last month

UEFA has ‘sincerely’ apologised to all fans affected by the chaotic events late last month

The fact that Liverpool asked for paper tickets, which some have seen as significant, seems not to be a factor. Paris barrister Pierre Barthelemy, representing some French fans who were at the game, said there were ‘breakdowns and computer bugs at the gates, which caused real tickets to be scanned as fake’.

Angus Light, 41, an advertising producer and season-ticket holder, whose ticket was from the Liverpool club ballot, was caught in the mayhem and had to climb over a wall to escape the crush and access the concourse. 

He arrived at the turnstiles at Gate C in the less-crowded east side of the stadium at around 8.25pm. He said: ‘You stick your barcode under a scanner and my ticket took four times to go green. The security guy is looking at me thinking: ‘Hold on! You need to go back!’ I knew it wasn’t a fake. It came from the club. The fourth time it went green and I thought: ‘Thank f*** for that!’

Scores of fans have related the same story, saying their legitimate tickets failed to scan after several attempts. Some stewards eventually gave up and allowed fans in, others refused entry to fans and some tickets did eventually scan but after a number of attempts.

Several have told us they were allowed in without scans because the system malfunctioned. By then, the chaos and the technological breakdown was causing some to attempt illegal entry. It is impossible to judge precisely from video evidence who was responsible. 

There were some forged tickets circulating among Liverpool fans, but most judge that number to be a few thousand at most. Almost all of those scaling the fences were not wearing Liverpool colours and witnesses say they were French-speaking and that French youths surged the gates.

French police fired tear gas and pepper spray at Liverpool supporters outside the stadium

French police fired tear gas and pepper spray at Liverpool supporters outside the stadium

Liam Corocan, 27, a project manager, was the guest of a major sponsor using Gate E, again a comparatively uncrowded access point, though he still queued for 45 minutes. 

‘When I got to the front, the railings from the side were removed by stewards so there was a rush from ticket-holders, as well as Parisians, who I assume didn’t have tickets. I eventually got to the turnstile and my ticket was scanning red, despite being on the official UEFA app. 

‘The steward told me to go back but other people behind me told him that was impossible, due to the number of people pushing at the back and the confined space we were in. He then snatched my phone and gestured that he was going to throw it over the fence before another member of staff came over and told me to crawl under the turnstile to get in, so my ticket wasn’t properly scanned. 

‘After I crawled under the turnstile, around 40-50 Parisians climbed the fences and sprinted up the stairs into the stadium.’

Others were not so fortunate. We have spoken to fans who had to abandon their attempts to attend because stewards would not believe their tickets were genuine even though they were obtained through the club ballot and appear to be legitimate.

Professor Still believes that there may have been a staffing and IT problem. ‘A major stadium we work with in UK had WiFi failure. Then everyone swaps to mobile networks and that exacerbates the problem. Or it could be it’s a mobile network failure and they were relying on that for their scanners. But it should have been a contingency plan. If you have a failure, you revert to manual ticket checking.

Access issues at the stadium saw thousands of supporters being crushed outside the ground

Access issues at the stadium saw thousands of supporters being crushed outside the ground

‘That’s down to trained staff who are able to recognise security features rather than just relying entirely on technology. There may well have been a staff shortage on the day which, to me, is the only reason why gates weren’t manned [properly].’

Because of the crush at Gate X, ticket checks on the walkway to the stadium had to be abandoned at around 7.30pm. Many fans arriving after 7.15pm experienced none of these initial ticket checks, which contradicts French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, who said the pre-filter checks worked.

By then order was beginning to break down with Liverpool fans being attacked by French-speaking gangs. One fan, Ben, said: ‘There were gangs of French-speaking young men who were sat on the wall and frequently jumping into the crowd and trying to steal tickets, and attempting to rush the barriers.’ 

There is video evidence of Liverpool fans holding up tickets behind locked gates, only for youths on the concourse to snatch them and run away. Several fans found people in their seats when they finally arrived.

Ricky Morton, 46, who works at Liverpool University, said: ‘The main issue we had was gangs of locals who were causing mayhem as we stood waiting in a static queue. Liverpool fans were left to try to manage the queues in the absence of any stewarding or policing. This led to several altercations with local gangs, who were trying to steal from fans and bunk into the stadium.’

Amid the chaos, police and stadium organisers took what might have been a fatal decision to shut numerous gates. At 7.30pm, I was aware that Gates X, U, T, S and R were all shut with tens of thousands of fans ushered to Gate N, which was the only one open at that time on the west side of the stadium. It transpires the same thing was happening all around the stadium.

Still said: ‘It looks as if any IT failure and their inability to scan tickets means it was then assumed they were all fake. That may well have been an inappropriate assumption. Thereafter, closing the gates is a very poor decision-making process.’ As the gates opened at the end of the match, further youths charged into the stadium and on to walkways, attacking fans.

Speaking to the newspaper Le Parisien, Liverpool fan Mark Woods, said: ‘All these youths — I’m talking potentially up to 1,000 youths — stormed the bridge. We’re all walking in the middle, they’re all shouting, it was very intimidating. I’ve never felt as scared and alone as I was then. They were pushing and shoving, kicking people.’ Morton said: ‘Seeing the police allow gangs to terrorise fans with impunity on the way out of the stadium will haunt me for a long time.’

Club football’s showpiece was staggeringly close to tragedy. That is extraordinary 33 years after Hillsborough. Liverpool fan Ian Lawrence said: ‘I was at Hillsborough. The biggest issue there was police making decisions and not forward-planning for the consequences. Exactly the same occurred here, and the only reason there were no disastrous consequences was the patience of the fans, many of us having been at Hillsborough.’

Or as Karl McVitty, another long-standing Liverpool fan, said: ‘I lost my best mate at Hillsborough and I realise how close we came to a catastrophe.’

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