Trust would '˜have to be rebuilt' if sectarianism bill scrapped

Trust would need to be rebuilt between the police and football fans by bringing in a programme of work if legislation aimed at curbing sectarianism at matches is scrapped, MSPs have been told.

James Kelly MSP. Picture: Scottish Parliament
James Kelly MSP. Picture: Scottish Parliament

Labour’s James Kelly said getting rid of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act would not be the “end of the matter”.

Mr Kelly has submitted a Member’s Bill to Holyrood in a bid to repeal the legislation, which he described as being discredited and ineffective.

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MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are considering the matter.

The Labour MSP told them he wanted to axe the existing law because “it is unfair that football fans are targeted” and he does “not think the legislation is working”.

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But Mr Kelly said: “Separate to that, there needs to be work done with supporters and the police and the clubs to rebuild a better relationship in order that we get more effective policing.”

Mr Kelly stressed: “I don’t see the repeal of this Act as being the end of the matter.

“I think there is a job for all of us to do in terms of putting out a message that religious intolerance is unacceptable, pointing to effective legislation to deal with that and there is a big job to be done in terms of the police and the supporters. It is a two-way street to work together in order to build that trust.

“In my opinion, a programme of work would be required going forward following the repeal of this Act.”

The legislation, which came into force in 2012, criminalises behaviour that is “threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting”.

But it was “rushed through” Holyrood in the aftermath of an Old Firm clash in March 2011 in which then Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist and former Celtic manager Neil Lennon were involved in angry scenes.

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Lennon was sent bullets and a parcel bomb in the post. Two high-profile Celtic fans – the late Paul McBride QC and former Holyrood deputy presiding officer Trish Godman – were also sent what police described as “viable explosive devices”.

SNP MSP George Adam insisted that at the time there had been “a steady systematic worsening of behaviour at games, both on field and off the field”. Referring to the threats against Lennon, Mr McBride and Mrs Godman, Mr Adam said: “With all that, surely the Scottish Government were right in bringing this legislation forward?”