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Soccer Hooligans Apologize to Victim

June 15, 1999

ESSEN, Germany (AP) _ Soccer hooligans on trial for attempted murder apologized in person Tuesday to the French policeman beaten comatose during the most savage attack of last summer’s World Cup.

Officer David Nivel was attending the trial for the first time as an observer to face the four men accused of kicking him, stomping him and smashing his head with a metal bar. He will not be called to testify.

Left blind in one eye and still undergoing therapy to regain his speech and ability to walk, Nivel, 44, stared motionless while two of his assailants offered apologies.

``I kicked you once or twice,″ Frank Renger, 31, told Nivel. ``I’m ashamed about it. I’d like to apologize, even though it doesn’t help you very much.″

Tobias Reifschlaeger, 24, added: ``I am very sorry.″

Both men, as well as a third suspect, Andre Zawacki, 28, had already expressed regret. The three admit participating in the attack but not with the brutality that would have caused Nivel’s severe injuries.

Only one suspect, Christopher Rauch, 24, has not apologized.

Niven’s wife, Lorette, rejected the apologies.

``I heard their pleas for forgiveness,″ she told reporters afterward. ``But I cannot forgive. My husband lost everything on that day.″

Hundreds of German hooligans were in Lens, France, on June 21 for the sold-out match between Germany and Yugoslavia. Despite heavy police security, the situation became chaotic after the game ended in a 2-2 draw. As French officers sought to push back the hooligans, one group slipped into a side street where Nivel was posted with two other police.

``Get the cops,″ the hooligans shouted, according to the indictment. The other officers fled, and the group surrounded Nivel.

The next day, a photo of Nivel lying unconscious in a pool of blood hit newspapers around the world, shocking billions of fans following soccer’s premier event and casting a pall over the rest of the games.

Then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl called the brutality ``a disgrace for Germany.″

Nivel’s wife has said she and her husband wanted to attend the trial to know what motivated hooligans to beat him so horribly. In court on Tuesday, she gave a statement detailing her husband’s injuries.

Nivel cannot drive a car, play sports, read or paint, his wife said. He can hardly talk. In addition to his diminished eyesight, his hearing is poor and he has lost most of his sense of taste and smell. He can no longer be an attentive father to their two children, she said.

If convicted, the four suspects face sentences of up to 15 years. The trial is expected to last into September.

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