Tougher police action on Rangers fans would have caused more ‘disruption’

There would have been even more disruption if Police Scotland had adopted a more forceful approach in dealing with Rangers supporters who caused widespread unrest in Glasgow city centre earlier this month, one of the force’s most senior officers has said.

Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said that attempts to prevent the 15,000-strong crowd from converging on George Square may have led to wider disorder and damage.

Speaking at a virtual board meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), Mr Kerr said that the force was “proud” of its approach, and criticised those who hold “subjective” and “isolationist” views on how and when human rights should be upheld.

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The meeting also heard Mr Kerr and Chief Constable Iain Livingstone stress that no undue political influence had been brought to bear on the force of its handling of the demonstrations against the failed Border Force immigration raid in Glasgow’s Pollokshields area.

Mr Livingstone said the police’s actions in both incidents was “proportionate,” and emphasised the importance of the force’s “operational independence.”

Five police officers were injured and 28 people were arrested after thousands of Rangers fans descended on George Square on 15 May to celebrate the club’s league title.

Amid rising disorder and widespread damage to fixtures in the civic centre, the crowds were eventually dispersed.

However, Mr Kerr told the SPA’s board members that the extent and the timing of the force’s response followed “operational practicality,” and met with articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Five police officers were injured during the unrest in Glasgow's George Square as Rangers fans celebrated winning the Scottish Premiership title. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

He said: “Anybody who’s watched the footage, you don’t need deep knowledge of police operational tactics, you just need a modicum of common sense to know that with 15,000 people ending up in George Square, to stop them converging in those numbers would arguably have taken a disproportionate amount of force, and caused a significantly greater degree of disruption and, potentially, disorder and damage.

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“I get that it’s deeply frustrating to business owners and people who live around George Square - I understand that entirely. But we’re proud of delivering a policing standard that is rights based and protects the human rights of everyone living in Scotland.

“The difficulty sometimes is that those large policing operations show that very often, perspectives on human rights are very subjective and can be quite isolationist. Those rights apply to everybody consistently and equally.”

Mr Livingstone added that the force’s approach reflected Hippocratic principles, insisting that it did not want to make challenging situations worse. “We certainly don’t want to create a situation where we have protests night after night after night because of an excessive or disproportionate response.”

The meeting also heard from John Scott QC, who heads up the independent advisory group on the police’s use of Covid-19 powers.

He cautioned that perceptions of the police response at both the George Square and Pollokshields incidents saw some people “project their own biases,” with potentially damaging consequences.

“This has the potential to create pressure on the operational independence of the police and, at the very least, create a perception of that pressure,” he explained.

“People are projecting their own biases onto policing in a way that’s really very, very unhelpful and potentially quite dangerous.”

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