The crowds of drunk young men had been gathering for hours outside the main railway station in Cologne on New Year's Eve when city police finally told the office that coordinates forces for the region that they wanted to clear the square.

The police coordinating office says it offered to send reinforcements. A report from the city police says the officer in charge decided there was no point asking for help because reinforcements would arrive too late.

Cologne, a city of more than 1 million people, had added just 142 extra police for the holiday. Most had only come on duty at 10:00 p.m.

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