An independent report has found that confusion among police caused them to lose control of the sprawling crowds gathered on Vancouver's streets to take in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final on June 15, setting the stage for the rioting that followed.

The report, which was released Thursday afternoon, looked into the destructive riots and looting that erupted after the Vancouver Canucks' lost to the Boston Bruins that left hundreds of storefronts smashed and numerous vehicles charred.

It describes a crowd that grew out of control hours before the game began, with tens of thousands of people converging on downtown streets -- many of them fuelled by alcohol.

John Furlong, the former head of the Vancouver Olympic Committee, and former Nova Scotia deputy attorney general Douglas Keefe were appointed to lead an independent panel tasked with focusing not only on what went wrong on June 15. The report summarizes their findings.

"A huge factor in what happened that day was alcohol," Furlong said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. "It had an enormous impact on the atmosphere and the attitude and the behaviour of people from fairly early on and right to the end of the day."

Furlong said that people were flocking to trains destined for the city's core at a rate of 500 every 80 to 90 seconds, and "huge numbers of passengers were travelling with alcohol."

Another problem was that fans began congregating downtown at around noon, more than five hours before most police. As a result, Keefe said, "The opportunity to set the tone was lost."

Police were responding to calls of crowds breaking through barriers and people climbing telephone polls even before the puck dropped, the report says. More officers were deployed as the unrest grew, with the police presence rising from 446 to 928 officers during the course of the riots.

The panel also analyzed the lessons learned from a 1994 riot in Vancouver, and how to prevent such incidents in the future. Among their findings:

  • the RCMP commander on the southern end of the enormous crowd missed the order to have officers don riot gear, because of a faulty Vancouver Police Department radio
  • riot gear was stored too far away, causing the riot squad to arrive after fires were already burning downtown
  • batteries on a Vancouver police loud speaker were not charged, and an RCMP loud hailer malfunctioned, which hampered communication with the crowd.

The report makes 53 recommendations, including that the province move to scale back on the sale of alcohol during regional events. It suggests creating a regional event squad made up of the RCMP, Vancouver police and other police forces. It also proposes establishing a special court to deal with those accused of rioting.

Furlong said the riots were caused by "thugs and villains and people who cheered them on," but it fell on "everybody else to try to manage and bring that evening to the safest conclusion they possibly could."

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu responded to the report at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, where he suggested that budgetary concerns may have played a role in the timing of the police deployment during the afternoon of June 15.

"If I had infinite amounts of money, I would deploy officers five hours before I think they're needed, just to be on the safe side," he told reporters. "But we don't do that. We have to be responsible with public money."

While police are investigating more than 1,000 people suspected of committing crimes during the riot, they have yet to lay a single charge.

Police launched a new website this week asking for help putting names to the faces of suspects caught in photos or video. The site had close to 90,000 hits yielding 140 tips in the first 24 hours.

The site was launched amid mounting criticism about the slow pace of the investigation. Critics have pointed to the swift response in Britain, where courts were kept open around the clock in order to charge, prosecute and sentence those found guilty in the aftermath of the recent riots in London and surrounding areas.

British police arrested more than 3,000 suspects and laid more than 1,000 charges in the aftermath of the riots.

In Vancouver, police arrested 100 people during the hockey riot, but only a handful of those cases were reviewed by the Crown and all were sent back to police for further investigation before charges can be laid.

There has also been criticism about Vancouver's preparation for the game, including the deployment of mobile fences that were eventually used by rioters as projectiles or battering rams.

With files from The Canadian Press