A man jailed for football violence in France says he endured a “nightmare” ordeal in police custody and prison after being the victim of an injustice.
Chef Alex Booth, 20, has spoken out to try to clear his name after spending seven weeks in a Marseille jail. He has also been banned from France for two years.
It was reported that Alex, 20, of New Mill, was jailed for “throwing a projectile” – said to be a glass beer bottle – at police on June 11 when violence erupted ahead of a Euro 2016 match between England and Russia.
But Alex says he now believes he was charged with ‘violence within a sporting centre’ an accusation he rejects.
He says he did not take part in fighting.
“I’m not a football hooligan and have never been done for anything at all,” he said. “What happened was a complete injustice. They (the French authorities) were looking for someone to blame for everything that happened over that weekend.”
Alex was in Marseille with his dad Chris, 52, when things got nasty.
He says he was trying to flee disorder when he was pepper sprayed in the face. As his dad was helping him recover, Alex was arrested.
Alex said: “I was given a breathalyser and was told I would be allowed out in the morning.”
He was placed in a holding cell with no toilet, no sink and no blankets.
By 2pm the following day – his 20th birthday – he was still there.
Under pressure during questioning, Alex admitted that his had flung a plastic cup containing beer into the air shortly before his arrest.
He says that this incident happened amid “rowdy” behaviour by other fans.
Alex, now back home, recalls his shock on being handed a two-month sentence. Worse was to come in jail.
“A prison officer said to be careful in here because there could be trouble. I was thinking that I wasn’t going to get out.”
He was placed in a cell with another Huddersfield man – who has not been named – and enjoyed his first shower in several days, although he had to wear the same clothes for five weeks.
“There was a shower and a toilet. Compared to the other cell it was like the Hilton,” he said.
During the first two weeks Alex was only allowed out of his cell for an hour a day. He and other English prisoners were then moved to a block for vulnerable persons where they were allowed into an exercise yard for five hours a day.
However, the cells in the new block had damp walls and cockroaches.
He recalls having to shower with 16 other inmates in a four-shower block. He claims he was told to keep his boxer shorts on so as not to offend Arab prisoners.
Alex was finally released on July 23 and was flown to Paris and then Heathrow.
He’s relieved and happy to be home but angry at what he sees as unfair treatment by the French.
“The lack of evidence against me annoys me,” he said. “I think they knew how long they were going to give me before anyone spoke in court.”
He has thanked family and friends, including his father Chris, for sending him letters while in jail.
“I want to forget it now and move forward. I’m not going to get those seven weeks back. I am keen to get back to work.”
His father Chris said: “With hindsight, maybe he shouldn’t have gone onto the middle of the England fans singing and dancing.
“Nigel, my brother, said ‘you should have known what it was going to be like down there.’ I genuinely didn’t know it was going to be like that.”