Monday, April 28, 2014
Eric Frachet -- Death on the Hooligan Express
Frachet, 33, had acted in small roles in a few films (La Cible, 1997; Le Demenagement, 1997; Vidangel, 1998) and in several television commercials in his native France. In 1997-1998, he worked as a high speed stunt driver on director John Frankenheimer's film Ronin, starring Robert De Niro. After spending the day of June 30, 1998, visiting his grandparents in Nouyaery, the actor boarded a train at Grenoble bound for Lyon on his way to Paris to audition the next morning for a television commercial. Unfortunately for Frachet, who had no interest in football, a World Cup game between bitter rivals England and Argentina was being played that evening in nearby St. Etienne. Sitting opposite the Frenchman in the train car was Paul Birch, a 43-year-old self-employed engineer from the Isle of Dogs, East London. Birch, though not on file with Scotland Yard as a known football hooligan, was an ardent England supporter and was in France to attend the match. He apparently believed Frachet was an Argentinian and felt the man was smirking at him and mocking the English team. When the train arrived at the village station of of St. Andre-le-Gaz, Birch pulled out a hunting knife, plunged it into Frachet's stomach, and fled across a field. The Frenchman bled out en route to the hospital from the 3 inch deep wound in his gut. The next day, French police responding to a disturbance in a hotel in Grenoble, arrested Birch for attacking a porter with a broken bottle. Under questioning, he admitted knifing Frachet after the "Argentine" mocked England's football team (England later lost the match to Argentina on a penalty kick). Prophetically, at the time of his arrest authorities felt Birch was "mentally deranged."
On July 3, 1998, the Briton was formally charged with murder and faced a 30 year prison sentence for the unprovoked attack. One year later, the prosecutor's office stated that psychiatric tests conducted while he was in custody established that Birch was suffering from "psychic problems" that significantly hindered his judgment and limited the control he had over his actions. While French authorities repeatedly sought cooperation from the British Government to determine whether the engineer had a documented history of mental illness before ultimately deciding his case, Birch managed to smuggle a letter out of prison to Frachet's family. In it, he stated that he killed Frachet under orders from a neo-Nazi gang of English fans who wanted to insure that England would stage the World Cup in 2006 (it was held in Germany). In February 2000, a French appeals court upheld the lower court ruling that Birch was mentally unfit to stand trial. Outraged, the victim's family and friends marched through the streets of Grenoble demanding "Real justice for Eric, the forgotten dead of the World Cup 1998." Birch was returned to England in December 2001 and removed to a mental institution in London at the request of French authorities.