Steel wall used in Crystal Palace match against Brighton 'may be used again'
THE wall of steel used to separate Crystal Palace fans from their rivals could be used again at matches next season, police have admitted.
A senior officer has maintained the tactic was a "success", despite severe criticism from fans who felt it was heavy-handed.
Palace supporters reacted angrily to the "military operation" before and after the January 31 match with rivals Brighton, which included the eight-foot wall outside the stadium.
But last week police met with Palace fans and club officials – and refused to rule out using the tactic again in the forthcoming season.
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Croydon's former borough commander, Chief Superintendent Adrian Roberts, explained at last Wednesday's meeting: "We wanted to get the Brighton fans out and back home quickly, in ten minutes, like we had previously done with Millwall fans.
"Owing to a number of circumstances, like trains not running on time, it didn't quite happen and Palace fans lost out.
"I believe if we hadn't deployed the tactics we had, innocent people would have been hurt.
"I believe the wall was a success, because nobody got hurt.
"I can never say it will or won't happen again, but we do need to have better dialogue with those 99.9 per cent of honest, peaceful Palace fans."
Other measures adopted by police at the Brighton game included keeping home supporters in the Arthur Wait stand for 25 minutes after the match, while Brighton fans were allowed to leave.
With derby games against Brighton, Millwall and newly-promoted Charlton to come this season, police and Crystal Palace chief executive Phil Alexander have said some games could be moved to midday kick-offs, to ensure fan safety.
But some fans are keen to see a different approach taken by the police. Season ticket holder Sam Hesketh, 30, said: "The main problem I had that night was the lack of communication.
"You might not want to tell the fans there is a massive steel wall outside, but at least tell people the road is blocked off.
"They might be fed up at half-time, but they know it's coming and can look at alternative train times.
"It was like being at a massive demonstration, but there was no demonstration."
Mr Hesketh believes it would be wrong to use the wall again.
He added: "It was really strange and I've never experienced anything like that before.
"You came out and the wall was really big with a Matrix-style screen telling people to turn round and go the other way.
"It didn't help placate any situation, it just wound people up."
Chief Supt Roberts admitted police could have communicated better with fans and explained he wanted the wall as "a surprise tactic".
Crystal Palace co-owner Stephen Browett has revealed the club initially received 'hundreds of complaints' from supporters about policing on the night.
The club immediately called for a meeting with the police and a further meeting with officers and representatives of supporters’ groups was held last Wednesday.
Mr Browett said: "They explained that there had been some trouble on the corner of Holmesdale Road and Park Road after the home game against Millwall, despite a line of officers and horses blocking the road.
"The police explained that 99.9 per cent of Crystal Palace supporters were well behaved but they had intelligence that a small group of supporters on either side were intent on causing trouble at the Brighton fixture.
"Their argument for the use of the metal wall was that it freed up officers to deal with events as they happened."
He added: "I think that at the end of the meeting we, and our supporters, understood their reasons for the use of the metal wall and they, on the other hand, accepted that its use was rather impersonal and upset law-abiding citizens.
"We have all agreed to work together and handle things more sensitively in the future."