‘Very small’ number of football bigots convicted, figures reveal

Celtic fans protest against the legislation. Picture: SNS
Celtic fans protest against the legislation. Picture: SNS
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A SCOTTISH Government publication has admitted the number of football fans convicted under controversial anti-sectarian legislation has been “very small”, reviving claims that the legislation is unnecessary.

The admission was made in a bulletin entitled Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2014/15 and led for more calls for repeal of the law.

The bulletin showed that there have been just 231 convictions under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act since it was introduced four years ago.

The figure is dwarfed by the more than 15,000 breach of the peace convictions last year alone.

The Scottish Government sponsored law was designed to crack down on threatening and hateful behaviour at football matches, including offensive singing or chanting.

It also criminalises the communication of threats of serious violence and threats intended to incite religious hatred, whether sent by post or posted on the internet.

Commenting on the frequency of convictions, the publication said: “Numbers are very small (79 convictions in 2014-15) in comparison to the crime type, breach of the peace (15,580 convictions) which they fall into (making up around less than 1 per cent).”

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: “We warned before this legislation was passed that it was unnecessary and unworkable.

“Now even the Scottish Government’s own document admits – four years on – the number of convictions is ‘very small’. We are committed to repealing this unpopular act, and the SNP should make the same admission.

“It wrongly targets football supporters, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and civilised, and simply want to enjoy matches without police breathing down their neck.”

She added: “There was already sufficient legislation in place to deal with disorder at football, and these figures only reinforce that point.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Since the introduction of the act religious crimes are down, race crimes are down and we’ve seen a decrease in crimes of offensive behaviour at or in relation to regulated football matches in Scotland showing the act has delivered real improvements.

“[It] sends out a clear message that Scotland will not tolerate any form of prejudice, discrimination or hate crime, and it gives police and prosecutors an additional tool to tackle this behaviour.”

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