Goalkeeper's caution not for cross sign, Crown Office insists

CELTIC goalkeeper Artur Boruc was cautioned not for blessing himself, but for making provocative gestures, the Crown Office revealed last night in a bid to silence growing condemnation of the legal move.

The Crown Office took the highly unusual step of issuing a detailed statement, citing as "wholly unfounded" reports in the media that Boruc was cautioned because he blessed himself at an Old Firm game - a claim that drew strong criticism from politicians including Ruth Kelly, Communities Secretary, and the Catholic Church in Scotland.

The statement said the player was cautioned for making gestures that incited trouble at the game in February.

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Last night the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland welcomed the clarification. However, Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, has written to the Lord Advocate, Lord Boyd, claiming the Crown Office had "bungled" the affair.

In its statement, the Crown Office said: "On 12 February 2006, just prior to the start of the second half of a Celtic v Rangers football game, Artur Boruc, the Celtic goalkeeper, was seen by members of the public and police officers to bless himself.

"Witnesses describe him smiling or laughing at a Rangers section of the crowd and making 'come on' gestures.

"This action appeared to incense a section of the crowd to react in such a way that police officers and security personnel had to become involved to calm the situation. The police have reported it took ten minutes to restore normality in the crowd."

The statement also explained that the procurator fiscal took the view that criminal proceedings were not necessary, which is why it was dealt with by way of an alternative to prosecution.

"In using that alternative she [the fiscal] made it clear in writing to Boruc that it was his alleged gesticulating to Rangers supporters in a provocative manner which was of concern. She did not in any way refer to the act of blessing himself."

It concluded: "We would wish to make it absolutely clear that the prosecution service in Scotland fully respects religious belief and practices and would not countenance formal action against individuals for acts of religious observance, but we would equally make clear that the police and prosecutors cannot ignore conduct which appears to be inciting disorder."

Roman Catholic bishop Joseph Devine, communications chief for the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said: "The Crown Office statement that they fully respect religious beliefs and practices and would not countenance formal action against individuals for acts of religious observance is both welcome and reassuring."

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Yesterday Jack McConnell, the First Minister, said the situation had been "misinterpreted" and called for emphasis on the positives about Scottish football.

Meanwhile, Dennis Canavan, the independent MSP for Falkirk West, lodged a question in parliament asking for guidelines to prosecutors outlining "the circumstances, if any, whereby making the sign of the cross may constitute a criminal offence".