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COP RAP ON FAN DEATHS.

Byline: BRIAN ROBERTS

A CORONER ruling yesterday on the deaths of two Leeds United fans strongly criticised Turkish police for their handling of pre-match violence.

Kevin Speight, 40, and friend Christopher Loftus, 35, were beaten and stabbed in an "organised ambush" in Istanbul, on the eve of Leeds' UEFA Cup semi-final game with Galatasaray four years ago. Coroner David Hinchliff said the local force - said to have refused co-operation with West Yorkshire officers - were "disorganised and ill-prepared".

Witnesses said their approach, as rival fans clashed, was "diabolical".

Mr Hinchliff added: "The police gave the impression they were targeting the Leeds supporters."

Many were struck with batons, he added, and several were taken into custody despite needing treatment.

The Leeds inquest heard Mr Speight had 12 flesh injuries, two of them stab wounds, and Mr Loftus 26, including five stab wounds.

They were described later as "well-liked, decent men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time".

Mr Hinchliff delivered verdicts of unlawful killing - greeted by Mr Loftus's brother as "finally putting to rest" rumours about the victims' characters.

A 22-year-old man was jailed in May 2002 over the deaths. Last year an appeals court ordered a retrial.

The coroner is to write to European football chiefs demanding that proper security plans be in place before any international match can go ahead.

CAPTION(S):

DIED: Loftus; DIED: Speight
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 23, 2004
Words:229
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