Thousands of Rangers fans descended on Ibrox Stadium and George Square in Glasgow in March 2021 to celebrate the league win, but faced condemnation by politicians for breaching lockdown rules.
Around 30 people were arrested over the weekend of March 6 and 7, which saw Deputy First Minister John Swinney label scenes of mass gatherings as “shameful”.
Rangers had told the Scottish Government it planned to host training and a dinner at Ibrox on the day the club was set to be mathematically confirmed as Scottish Premiership champions.
However, emails reveal concern within Police Scotland and the Scottish Government that this would act as a magnet for celebrating supporters from across Scotland.
Emails obtained by The Scotsman show senior police officers were concerned that Rangers’ decision to train at Ibrox on the day they would mathematically become champions could “significantly impact upon the safety of both the public and police officers”.
Superintendent Stephen Dolan, who described himself as having “responsibility” for the policing operation that weekend, said “mass celebrations” had the potential to have a “significant impact on public health and that of police officers” due to the Covid-19 position at the time.
He said: “I would go so far as suggesting that taking the team to Ibrox during such celebrations may be morally (and potentially legally) reckless.”
Sup. Dolan also questioned the legality of a post-training meal, questioning whether it “complies with existing Covid regulations” and the intent of the club directors to hold training at Ibrox.
Stating the police’s intelligence suggested a “significant number of Rangers supporters” were “intent” to take part in mass celebrations, the senior police officer said this had the potential of “significantly impact upon the safety of both the public and police officers”.
He said: “I’m told that our discussions with the club suggest that the directors are intent on the players gathering at the venue should they be declared league winners and potentially using training as a reason to do so.
"Whilst I am clearly not in a position to question the credibility of any intent to conduct training at that venue on the day, I would question why they would do so when this is not their normal training venue and, to my understanding, training would not normally occur at that time on a Sunday.”
David Hamilton, the strategic football lead at the Scottish Government, said the justification from the club for holding training at Ibrox was “contrived” and a “departure from usual practice”.
In an earlier email, he told Calum Beattie, director of operations at the SPFL and Police Scotland officials, that “we would strongly discourage anything which increases the risk of supporters gathering”.
He also raised concerns of “far higher numbers at Ibrox, particularly if they knew the players would be there”.
Speaking at the Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, March 8 last year – the day after the scenes which led to dozens of arrests – the Deputy First Minister accused fans of “deliberately flouting” Covid-19 rules.
Mr Swinney said Rangers had a “duty” to tell fans not to gather and messages from them on Sunday could have helped disperse the crowds, adding: “The silence from Rangers was deafening.”
He added: “The Government and Police Scotland reminded Rangers of the need for the club to advise fans to adhere to the current restrictions in discussions on February 26 and March 5.
“It is a matter of profound regret that that did not happen.”
The emails have only been released after a transparency battle with Police Scotland, which had claimed releasing their content would "compromise operational policing".
It later said disclosure would stop officers being able to catch criminals by giving them a "heads-up" on the quality of its information.
However, in a transparency victory for The Scotsman, the force was told to release the information after these arguments were flatly rejected in a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner .
Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland, divisional commander for Greater Glasgow at Police Scotland, said the celebrations posed an “extremely challenging set of circumstances” and accused fans of “completely disregarding” the public health crisis at the time.
He said: “Thousands of supporters gathered across a number of venues completely disregarding the public health crisis at the time, putting both the wider community and our officers at risk.
“We had been planning for the conclusion of the football season with a number of key partners, including Rangers Football Club, and highlighted our concerns. Despite our pre-planned operation to prioritise public safety and minimise disorder, this was an extremely challenging set of circumstances.
“We continue to be clear that football clubs have a responsibility to encourage their fans to celebrate safely and responsibly.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Rangers’ plans for the title celebrations were submitted at short notice and requested permission for a crowd significantly higher than what was allowed at the time, which was refused because of the clear health risk it posed to the public.
“We discussed this with Rangers at the time and any issues of criminality were rightly dealt with by Police Scotland.”
Rangers FC failed to respond to a request for comment, while the SPFL declined to comment.