Football fans who racially abuse players or the public at matches should be banned from all UK games for life, a senior police officer has said.

Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Stephen House said clubs must take action to ensure those responsible are prosecuted.

His comments follow the England versus Bulgaria game last night in Sofia, where England players were subjected to racist chants and Nazi salutes from sections of the Bulgarian crowd.

England won the game 6-0, but play was halted twice in the first half as a result of the abuse.

England FA Chairman Greg Clarke described it as “one of the most appalling nights I’ve seen in football”, and Bulgarian FA President Borislav Mihaylov has now resigned.

But Sir Stephen said hate crimes at UK matches were also a problem, describing racist abuse from fans as “one of the most difficult things to deal with – and one of the most hateful as well”.

Speaking at the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee today (Tuesday), he said: “Ninety nine per cent of people go to a football match to enjoy or suffer watching their team play.

“They don’t want to be in a crowd with that sort of abuse going on.”

He added: “The clubs need to take action: if they can identify and evidence it, these people need to be prosecuted.

“As importantly, and sometimes more importantly – and to demonstrate to the other people in the crowd – they need to be banned for life from any football match in the United Kingdom.”

Labour assembly member Unmesh Desai, the committee chairman, said many London teams were making good progress, but more positive messaging and education was needed.

He said: “It’s about actually shaking some of these clubs out of their inertia.”

Mr Desai wrote to all London football league clubs in August, ahead of the new season, challenging them to take action on racism at their matches.

Just 116 instances of hate crime were reported at London football grounds in the three years from 2015 to 2018.

However, half of all UK fans report seeing racial abuse at a match, according to research by Kick it Out.

Mr Desai is concerned that the crime is under-reported, because fans don’t know how to alert the police or clubs.

But Conservative assembly member Steve O’Connell told the committee that the problem was not as serious in the UK as elsewhere in Europe.

He said: “What happened last night was shocking, but from my experience we don’t have as bleak a picture – but we need to be on top of it.”