The statement made by Nigel Huddleston, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the House of Commons on 6 June 2022.
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.