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Unruly Soccer Fans Described as Partly to Blame for Disaster

From Times Wire Services

Authorities said Tuesday that unruly and drunken fans bear part of the blame for a weekend soccer stampede that killed scores of people in the northern city of Sheffield. The comments came as the government officially began its inquiry into Britain’s worst sports disaster.

And during the night, the death of a 14-year-old boy pushed the number of fatalities to 95.

Police have been sharply criticized for their handling of the crowd on Saturday at Hillsborough Stadium, where the deaths occurred minutes into a semifinal league championship match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

But Irvine Patnick, a Conservative member of Parliament representing Sheffield, said officers told him that Liverpool fans hindered police as they tried to save people. Similar claims, attributed to unidentified police officers, appeared in press reports.

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“They told me they were hampered, harassed, kicked . . . by Liverpool fans,” Patnick said. “All of this happened to them . . . and now they are being blamed.”

And Police Federation spokesman Paul Middup said many Liverpool fans arrived at the stadium after heavy drinking and that police could not control them.

Alcohol is forbidden at British soccer matches, but police allowed pubs around the stadium to decide whether to open Saturday.

Most bartenders contacted by the British Broadcasting Corp. said their patrons were well-behaved and left in time for the game.

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But some police officers on patrol reported that hundreds of people were still drinking in the pubs 30 minutes before kickoff. “We’re talking about people who had been drinking heavily who were intent on getting in that (stadium) before the match started with only a very few minutes to spare,” said one.

However, Peter Taylor, a lord justice of appeal who is conducting the official inquiry, said it is too soon to assess blame.

Meanwhile, in Liverpool, nine injured fans filed writs seeking damages for personal injuries. The writs allege negligence or breach of duty against South Yorkshire police and the Sheffield soccer club.


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