Police officer tells mother of autistic schoolgirl to take her family out for the day if Crystal Palace are at home.
THE mother of an autistic schoolgirl whose car was vandalised when police escorted Brighton fans down her road has been told how to avoid further problems in future – take her children out for the day.
More than £1,000 of damage was caused when Jacqui Higginbottom's wing mirrors were smashed and a key was used to carve a mark along her car following the Crystal Palace match in December.
The mother-of-five is one of a number of people living in Sangley Road, which is opposite Selhurst Park, whose property has been damaged since police adopted new tactics this season to manage fans leaving the stadium.
Residents recently held a meeting with police and club officials to raise concerns about the decision to segregate away supporters and then escort them along the road towards Norwood Juntion station.
Though police do not plan to use the tactic for the visit of Leeds United this weekend – unless absolutely necessary – they will continue to adopt it during games judged to be "high risk".
When Miss Higginbottom, who has an autistic daughter, asked an officer what she should do to ensure her property and family are safe on Saturday, she claims an officer told her to go out for the day.
Now South Norwood councillors are backing her call for police to stop escorting away fans along Sangley Road.
"After the Brighton match fans tore off the wing mirrors of my car, took a key all along the side and even took a pee on my front door," said Miss Higginbottom.
"My daughter is disabled and suffers from depression. She was distressed by the loud background noise and was running up and down the house screaming her head off.
"I've lived here for six years and never had any problems until they started pushing all the away fans down our road. Why should the people who live here have to flee our homes because of a football match?"
Miss Higginbottom moved her car when told the police planned to deploy the tactic again following the Charlton match on February 2.
Other people living in the street saw their vehicles and property damaged as 3,000 away fans were escorted to the railway station.
Chief Superintendent Adrian Roberts defended the operation and described their actions as "mindless violence".
He said: "I'm convinced had we not taken the measures we did by keeping the fans separate as they departed the ground then we would be talking about people being injured as well as property being damaged.
"A very small minority of fans were determined to cause trouble that day, as shown by them letting off flares inside the ground and causing extensive damage both inside and outside the stadium which sadly affected residents in Sangley Road."
As well as these two fixtures, the police also used the same crowd control measures following the game against Millwall in October.
The police said the decision was based on intelligence not on specific categories of matches.
South Norwood councillor Jane Avis said the meeting held with police at Selhurst Park on February 28 had left residents "extremely dissatisfied".
"They wanted to know why the decision had been taken not to funnel supporters down Park Road, already cleared of cars, which is wider and has fewer homes," she added.
Police said the geography of the area narrowed the crowd control options and that Sangley had been chosen to limit traffic and bus disruption.
They advised people living in the street to park elsewhere on match days.
Charlton fans were “let down” by police tactics following February’s derby match at Selhurst Park, the club’s supporters’ trust has said.
Away fans ripped-up seating and lit flares during the game and then property and vehicles were damaged as they were escorted to Norwood Junction via Sangley Road after police kept them back following the final whistle.
Richard Wiseman, interim secretary of Charlton Athletic Supporters’ (CAS) Trust, said the vandalism would not have happened were fans allowed to leave “at their own pace”.
“We do not think our safety was fully considered,” he said.
“We heard no warning that we were going to be held in the street for 20 minutes and there was no explanation of what was happening from individual officers.
“Nearly 3,000 people were herded into a narrow residential street against a line of police with dogs and shields.
“Those at the back could not see the front and there was an inevitable crush forwards. Those at the front were pushed into the police and threatened by officers who were evidently frightened themselves.
“Those in the middle – which included elderly and disabled people and children – were crushed.
“There was a very realistic fear that people could fall and be trampled.”
Mr Wiseman said many of the fans did not want to go to Norwood Junction because they had driven to the stadium.
“We do not believe vandalism would have occurred in Sangley Road had people been allowed to leave the stadium at their own pace,” he added.
“We appreciate that police have a difficult task, but we feel their tactics were disproportionate and could have caused serious injury.
“CAS is trying to set up improved lines of communication with the police to ensure a similar situation will not occur again.”