Religious hate crime rises due to football sectarianism

Religiously aggravated hate crime increased in Scotland last year, according to new figures.

More than half of the charges reported in 2016/17 were made under laws aimed at football fans. Picture: John Devlin

There were 673 charges reported in 2016-17, up 14 per cent on 2015-16 and the highest number over the last four years. More than half (377) were made under laws aimed at tackling sectarianism in football.

Charges under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act increased 32 per cent on the previous year, with 140 of these related to the Scottish Cup Final between Rangers and Hibs in May last year.

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Almost half – 44 per cent – of victims in religiously aggravated charges were police officers, the statistics from the Crown Office show.

Elsewhere, racial crime remained the most commonly reported hate crime. There were 3,349 charges reported in 2016/17, 10 per cent down on 2015/16, and the lowest number reported since 2003-04.

Sexual orientation aggravated crime was the second most common type of hate crime, with 1,075 charges reported in 2016-17, an increase of 5 per cent on the previous year.

There were also 188 charges reported in 2016/17 with an aggravation of prejudice relating to disability, six per cent fewer than in 2015-16.

Community safety minister Annabelle Ewing said: “Any crime motivated by prejudice is absolutely unacceptable.

“I remain concerned that hate crimes are under-reported and want to encourage anyone who has been subjected to such appalling acts to come forward to ensure perpetrators can be dealt with.

“We will keep engaging with community leaders on how best to raise awareness of how such crimes can be reported and in the meantime.”

She added: “The number of charges under the Offensive Behaviour Act demonstrate that we still have a problem with offensive and abusive behaviour related to football matches, and that we need legislation to give our police the powers required to ensure that football is not immune from the standards expected in the rest of society.”

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “We continue to work with the police and support organisations to encourage people to come forward in relation to any hate crime.

“I would like to assure ­anyone affected by hate crime that they live in a society in which law enforcement agencies will ensure any report is treated with the utmost seriousness.”

Last year Scottish Labour brought forward proposals to have the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act scrapped.