Sussex Police have apologised after falsely reporting that Crystal Palace fans had “knives and knuckledusters” confiscated at their derby clash with Brighton and Hove Albion last month.
Chief Inspector Simon Nelson had described scenes around the 0-0 draw as “a return to the dark days of football” and described how “groups of masked people” were on the lookout for confrontation and attempted to gain entry to the Amex Stadium with “knives and knuckledusters.”
However, an investigation by The Independent, sparked by inconsistencies in the authorities’ reporting of events, has led to a full withdrawal of those claims and an apology to both clubs and their fans.
In the wake of some ticketed fans having been refused entry to the away end for the fixture on November 28, Sussex Police released a statement revealing that five men from the Brighton area and one from south London had been arrested.
“Outside the stadium, we dealt with a number of public order incidents, particularly amongst a contingent of away supporters who were being escorted from the railway station,” read their statement post-match.
“We are aware that a significant number of people attempted to enter the ground with pyrotechnics, knives and knuckledusters, which were found following efforts to gain access through fire exit doors in the south stand.”
However, statements from both Brighton and Hove Albion and Crystal Palace failed to make mention of any weapons being discovered.
Five Year Plan, a Palace fanzine, had asked Chief Inspector Nelson if he had any evidence of those weapons’ existence on Tuesday, with Nelson responding that they should contact Albion “as it was their staff who found those items in the away end of the stadium.”
When contacted by The Independent, Brighton referred enquiries back to Sussex Police, saying it was a police matter.
Sussex Police, when contacted by The Independent on Tuesday, reiterated that they had recovered weapons at the scene and that they were now evidence. When pushed, they refused to publish any pictures of the ‘weapons’ or offer any proof of their existence.
Chief Inspector Nelson’s tweet has now been deleted. Hours later, following further pressure, Sussex Police released the following statement:
“The reference to weapons being found discarded at the stadium following the Brighton v Crystal Palace match on November 28 was based on information logged by our officers on the night and done so in good faith.
“Subsequently, it has been established that no such items were physically recovered at the stadium or in the city. We accept that this information was incorrect and the tweet published earlier today by one of our officers was wrong.
“Sussex Police apologises to both clubs and their supporters.”
Rob Sutherland edits Five Year Plan, who pursued the story with Chief Inspector Nelson, and told The Independent:
“Crystal Palace fans are a passionate group. We are proud of our positive support. The implication that our fans would carry potentially deadly weapons into a football stadium was a smear that needed to be challenged. Football fans already have a bad reputation, often unfounded — it shouldn’t be further trashed by unsubstantiated assertions like this one.
“I am delighted that Sussex Police have apologised for their false statements. Further questions should be asked about the checks that the police force went through to establish the facts prior to making this statement. Clearly in this case, any process they should have followed failed.”
Palace and Brighton meet again at the Amex on Monday January 8th after being drawn together in the FA Cup third round.