French Senate report confirms interior minister lied after May 28 chaos during Stade de France football match

French President Emmanuel Macron , right, has awarded Gerald Darmanin, left, with even more ministerial duties despite Darmanin's failure to protect football fans at the Stade de France in May. (Caroline Blumberg, Pool via AP)
By Olivier Bault
10 Min Read

In a report published Wednesday, the French Senate committee investigating the May 28 events at the Stade de France highlighted the malfunctions and inadequacy of the security arrangements put in place by the Paris police as well as a number of false statements from Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. Darmanin had decided to put the blame for the chaos on the Liverpool team’s supporters, pointing at the supposedly unusual number of counterfeit tickets those fans were holding, which Darmanin estimated at about 40,000, or some 70 percent of the total, according to his own words.

Despite Darmanin’s claims, it has been confirmed by Martin Kallen, general manager of UEFA Events, that less than 2,600 fake tickets were presented at the gates. Most commentators had actually noted from the day after the scenes of chaos at the Stade de France during the Liverpool-Real Madrid Champions League match, that the figures given by the minister based on statements by the police prefect were absolutely unfounded.

Darmanin’s obvious lies did not stop French President Emmanuel Macron from rewarding his loyalty in the cabinet reshuffle that followed the June electoral defeat, by which Macron lost his majority in the National Assembly. Thus, while French commentators believe that the scenes at the Stade de France, and the government’s false statements that followed, may have cost Macron’s coalition some 40 seats in the June 12 and 19 elections, Darmanin, who was only minister of the interior, was made minister of the interior and overseas departments and territories on July 6.

Only the Paris police prefect, Didier Lallement, is expected to lose his post after July 20, as a consequence of his mismanagement of security at the Champions League final and police brutality against peaceful English supporters, including families with children and disabled people.

However, as can be read this week in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro, which has analyzed the report of the Senate investigative committee and reproduced some passages, there was, as the authors of the Senate report wrote, “a belated and partial recognition of responsibility” on the part of the authorities, including Minister Darmanin.

“It was unfair to blame the Liverpool team’s supporters for the unrest that occurred, as the interior minister did, in order to divert attention from the state’s inability to adequately manage the crowds present and to curb the actions of several hundred violent and coordinated criminals,” the rapporteurs wrote.

“The arrangements put in place had significant deficiencies in terms of intelligence (absence of hooligans but presence of criminals in large numbers) (…) and insufficient communication between the authorities involved,” the senators further reproached those responsible for the Champions League mayhem.

“Public officials were almost exclusively focused on managing, from a law enforcement perspective, the English fans without tickets, who have a known habit of coming to support their team to enjoy the atmosphere of the game outside the stadium,” their investigation report reads. “On May 28, the security of the football fans and the protection of their property were insufficiently ensured.” As a matter of fact, “the criminal acts began before the screening (of fans). Through the surveillance cameras, the people in the stadium’s security headquarters could see the pickpockets and other thieves at work.”

And besides, the report’s authors note, “the presence of those offenders, although of an apparently unprecedented scale, was predictable. In the days leading up to the event, the Stade de France staff and the mayor of Saint-Denis (where the stadium is located) reported an unusual amount of excitement around the game and the venue. However, these observations did not seem to lead to an alert from the territorial intelligence. The number of staff intended to fight against delinquency was therefore underestimated and not sufficiently increased.”

For the French Senate’s investigative committee, “it is the very conditions created by the Police Prefecture and the lack of sufficient responsiveness that are the primary causes of the incidents that occurred during pre-screening.”

Faced with the “risk of people getting crushed” in the crowd, writes Le Figaro, Police Prefect Lallement ordered the pre-filtering of fans to be lifted, which in turn led to the use of tear gas by the police. According to the senate’s report, “these decisions, necessary as they were to avoid a tragedy, were the direct consequence of a lack of anticipation and were the cause of the incidents that shocked national and international public opinion and tarnished the image of France. The decision to lift the pre-filtering created a space in the stadium’s forecourt into which the criminals who attacked the fans could rush.”

And so France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Minister of Sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who has also kept her job, were indeed not telling the truth when they publicly put the blame on the British fans and their alleged 40,000 fake tickets.

Police Prefect Lallement was the first to make a partial apology for the police brutality, and he did acknowledge before senators at the beginning of June that his claim about the 40,000 fake tickets was not supported by any solid evidence. However, the fans that had been robbed by local thieves and illegal immigrants and also beaten and tear-gassed by Darmanin’s police had to wait until the end of June, a month after the scenes of extreme violence and chaos at the Stade de France and nearly 10 days after the defeat of Macron’s coalition in the legislative elections, for Darmanin’s first act of contrition during an interview on RTL radio.

“I gladly apologize to all those who suffered this mismanagement,” he said, finally admitting that, as everyone already knew, “if there was something that went wrong at the Stade de France, (it was) the fight against delinquency.”

The problem is that in the week following the May 28 match at the Stade de France, neither the interior minister, nor the Police Prefect or the Public Prosecutor’s Office, ordered that the video surveillance recordings from the cameras placed around the stadium be kept, and the footage was automatically and irremediably destroyed after seven days.

“The lack of conservation of video surveillance footage constitutes a serious fault,” said Senator François-Noël Buffet, the center-right co-chairman of the senate investigative committee. Senator Buffet explained that the visit to the stadium’s control room and the interviews with the people present on the day of the Liverpool-Real Madrid Champions League final confirmed the presence that day of a judicial police officer and a deputy prosecutor who could see what was happening and had the power to order the conservation of the footage beyond the usual seven-day period before their automatic deletion.”

According to Buffet, “nothing was done to preserve these images.” He said: “in the control center various authorities, including political ones, were present and nobody had the idea or the intention – I do not know – to do something to keep these images.”

Buffet called this attitude by the authorities “very worrying.”

“What we will forever be missing are the images,” the investigative committee’s co-chair insisted when presenting this damming report. “There is still some footage (recorded by the Police Prefecture) because the public prosecutor’s office, following our hearings, has requested its seizure, and it is now in the hands of justice, and legally it is not accessible.”

However, he insisted, “this does not call into question the analysis that has been made and the identification of the dysfunctions that have been observed.” French senators speak in their report of “a manifest lack of will to shed light on responsibilities.”

Furthermore, in the eyes of the French Senate investigative committee, the events at the Stade de France “have seriously challenged France’s ability to organize major sporting events, particularly in view of the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”  

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