Making clubs liable for supporter actions 'on the table' in wake of Rangers fans' riots, says Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf has suggested the option of making Scottish football clubs liable for the criminal actions of their supporters is “on the table”.

The justice secretary was speaking on Tuesday in answer to an urgent question on the Scottish Government’s engagement with Police Scotland and Rangers FC around the scenes of violence in Glasgow on Saturday.

Celebrations from Rangers fans turned violent when police issued a dispersal order. The resulting violence led to at least five police officers suffering injuries and at least 28 arrests.

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Football clubs could be made liable for the actions of their fans, the justice secretary has said.

Asked what more could be done to avoid similar situations in the future, Mr Yousaf said he was keen to work on a cross-party basis to “find a long-standing solution”.

Among the suggestions include the potential of introducing strict liability for football clubs.

This would see clubs become liable for the actions of their fans, leading to potential criminal or civil law sanctions and damages should fans engage in criminal activity.

Such a move has been mooted in the past, but in 2019 just three clubs – Partick Thistle, Queen of the South and Annan Athletic – backed strict liability in a BBC Sport Scotland poll.

A total of 14 of Scotland’s senior clubs said they would be against such a move, with 17 saying they were not willing to comment.

In an answer to James Dornan MSP, who has campaigned for strict liability, the justice secretary said it was important to “bring clubs forward” when searching for a solution.

He said: “It is important to engage with the clubs. I think it is important to try to bring clubs forward with us in this journey as opposed to trying to oppose measures upon them, but ultimately that is what we may have to do.

"If the clubs are unwilling to acknowledge, unwilling to accept, unwilling to confront the fact that there is a problem amongst some fans, then of course we may have to work together as a chamber, as a Parliament, to find a solution that is appropriate.

"Strict liability is one of those options that should remain firmly on the table.”

Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens and a Glasgow MSP, was scathing of the behaviour of football fans.

He asked: "Given that so many thousands of fans are clearly unwilling or incapable of listening to encouragement and appeals for civilised behaviour, is it not abundantly clear that we are only going to see significant change when every fan of every club knows that any hint of vandalism, violence, anti-social behaviour or bigotry will bring not only criminal sanctions for themselves as individuals, but immediate and severe sanctions for the club that they follow, whether through the law or through the football authorities?”

In response, Mr Yousaf repeated that “strict liability should be on the table” and said other options such as an independent regulator should also be considered.

He also called for a lifetime ban for fans found to be guilty of anti-Catholic bigotry or disorder in George Square.

"I think the clubs could also take stronger action,” he said. “I hope any supporter, any fan, anybody involved in Rangers FC that has been found guilty of being involved in anti-Catholic bigotry or disorder will get a lifetime ban from the club.”

"That is a punishment that probably fans would fear the most.”

Both Scottish Labour and the Tories declined to comment on the prospect of clubs facing strict liability.

SFA president Rod Petrie had previously branded Saturday’s scenes involving Rangers fans in Glasgow as “an abomination, not a celebration”, saying they had brought “embarrassment to the national game”.

Rangers FC declined to comment on strict liability when contacted by The Scotsman last night.

The club had previously issued a statement on Monday in reaction to Saturday’s violent scenes.

The statement said: “Sadly, a small minority of people behaved inappropriately and in a manner not reflective of our support. Some of the scenes were unacceptable and have besmirched the good name of Rangers Football Club. These so called “fans” should reflect upon the values and ethos of our club, and consider the damage this does to the reputation of the club.”

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