14 Britons Get 3 Years Each in Soccer Riot Fatal to 39

From Times Wire Services

A court convicted 14 English soccer fans of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced them to three years in prison and fines of $1,538 each Friday for taking part in the 1985 Heysel Stadium riot that killed 39 spectators.

But all 14 defendants walked from the courtroom and returned to England. No date was set for them to begin serving their terms, half of which were suspended by the court.

"They will receive an invitation to come to prison. If they say 'no,' we may have to bring them here one way or the other," Public Prosecutor Pierre Erauw said.

British defense lawyer Harry Livermore said Belgian authorities may have to go through a second extradition process because authorities allowed the Liverpool fans to leave the country.

Livermore said he expects those convicted to serve less than a year in jail. All the English defendants already served about six months in custody following their extraditions but were freed on their own recognizance before the trial.

Eleven other English fans were acquitted because of insufficient evidence.

Judge Pierre Verlynde, a member of the three-judge panel that rendered the verdicts, said the Liverpool fans "transformed the field into a battleground" and were "thirsty for violence."

In addition to the 39 deaths, more than 500 people were injured when Liverpool fans rioted at Belgium's Heysel Stadium just before the 1985 European soccer championship final between Liverpool and Juventus Turin of Italy.

The verdicts came in the wake of Britain's worst sports disaster. On April 15, a stadium stampede led to the death of 95 people when fans tried to crowd into a standing-room only section during a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield, England.

Convicted of negligence in the 1985 disaster was Albert Roosens, former chairman of the Belgian soccer federation, for failing to take into account the potential for violence. His six-month sentence was suspended.

Brussels police officer Johan Mahieu, who was in charge of security, was convicted of gross omission of duty and his sentence, for nine months, also was suspended.

In a separate civil action brought by family members and heard by the same judicial panel that heard the criminal case, four officials were found not liable for the deaths that resulted from the tragedy.

They included Jacques Georges, president of European Union of Football Assns., Europe's ruling soccer body; former organization General Secretary Hans Bangerter; Brussels Mayor Herve Brouhon; and Viviane Baro, a former Brussels alderman for sports.

Provisions for Payment

Damages ranging from $900 to several thousand dollars were awarded to individual plaintiffs in the civil action, and judges said there somehow would be provisions made for those convicted in the criminal actions to pay successful plaintiffs in the civil action.

The soccer disaster led to a ban on England's private soccer clubs in European competition. England's national clubs were allowed to continue playing.

Belgian authorities had requested the extradition of 27 Britons based on videotapes and pictures showing British fans tearing down the fence separating them from Italian supporters. Two of the Britons already were jailed on unrelated charges, bringing the number extradited to 25.

Britain complied with the extradition request in September, 1987, and the five-month trial began Oct. 17, 1988.

The European Union of Football Assns. announced last month that it would lift the ban on English clubs in time for the 1990-91 season provided English fans behaved at home until then.

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