Hearts in clear as SPL rules club did all they could over Neil Lennon attack

HEARTS have escaped punishment from the Scottish Premier League following an investigation into the match against Celtic at Tynecastle last month which saw Neil Lennon attacked by a spectator.

The SPL board of directors also ruled that no action should be taken against Celtic for offensive singing from a section of their supporters during the game.

In their ruling, the SPL accepted that Hearts had taken all reasonable security precautions for the game on 11 May which had been deemed as a high-risk fixture by the Tynecastle club.

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The spectator who ran to the edge of the visiting technical area and physically confronted Celtic manager Lennon was given a lifetime ban by Hearts the following day and is currently awaiting criminal trial on charges of breach of the peace and assault exaggerated by religious prejudice.

The incident took place shortly after Gary Hooper had scored Celtic's second goal of a 3-0 win in the 49th minute of a highly-charged contest which saw both teams finish with ten men.

Hearts had 220 stewards on duty at the game, a 25 per cent increase on the normal deployment, with double the usual police presence for a fixture against Celtic.

The SPL board took evidence from their match delegate at the game, former Scottish Football Association security chief Willie McDougall, and match referee Craig Thomson.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster last night insisted any punishment for Hearts would have been inappropriate in the circumstances.

"If a club is doing everything that it possibly can to avoid something happening, then it would be wrong to punish the club for something that is outwith its control," said Doncaster.

"Where we are talking about fairly stringent requirements clubs have to meet within our rules, if they meet those requirements, if they do everything they can, then I think it would be wrong to take action where they've done that. The stewarding workforce of Hearts took it very seriously. They addressed the issues they encountered. Clearly it was a very difficult night which came at the climax to a very difficult season. I think we have to put that in context.

"Clearly there's a lot of work with clubs and the police, and with their stewarding forces, to ensure everyone is as safe as they can be. It's important that everyone who is doing a job of work, on the side of the pitch or elsewhere, does so in a safe environment. Clubs are doing an awful lot to try and ensure that is the case.

"The individual involved in the attack on Neil Lennon is being dealt with by the justice system. He's already been given a life ban by Hearts and indeed is facing the full force of the law."It is the second time in two years that Hearts have avoided any sanction from the SPL for this kind of incident. In May 2009, Hibernian striker Derek Riordan was confronted by a spectator after scoring a 79th-minute penalty kick to win an Edinburgh derby fixture at Tynecastle. Hearts banned two supporters for life following that incident and were subsequently warned about future stewarding requirements by the SPL.

Despite the breach of security which led to the attack on Lennon, however, the SPL were satisfied that the measures put in place by Hearts met the standards demanded of them by Lothian and Borders Police, City of Edinburgh Council and the SPL's own rules regarding unacceptable conduct.

Hearts have already announced that Celtic's ticket allocation for their first visit to Tynecastle in the new season, scheduled for 1 October, will be reduced by around 400 in order to facilitate two "clear zones" in the Roseburn Stand in a bid to minimise any potential crowd disorder.

The SPL's six-man board, responsible for yesterday's ruling, is comprised of chairman Ralph Topping, secretary Doncaster, Hibs chairman Rod Petrie, Celtic director Eric Riley, St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour and St Johnstone vice-chairman Steven Brown.

"The SPL Board recently received a report following the Heart of Midlothian v Celtic match on Wednesday 11 May 2011," read the SPL's statement. "The Board also considered the reports from the SPL Match Delegate and the Match Referee.

"The SPL Board noted that Heart of Midlothian identified the fixture as a high risk game and in addition to the usual pre-operations meeting between the clubs, Lothian and Borders Police and G4S, Heart of Midlothian had arranged an earlier meeting with Lothian and Borders Police to specifically discuss safety and security aspects of the game.

"The SPL Board also noted that Heart of Midlothian's stewarding arrangements were entirely consistent with both their Safety Certificate and the requirements of Lothian and Borders Police. In accordance with these requirements, a steward was deployed to each gate at half time and full time, but not during the match.

The Heart of Midlothian Safety Certificate is provided by the Safety Committee of City of Edinburgh Council.

"The individual alleged to have assaulted Celtic Manager Neil Lennon is being dealt with by the justice system and has been give a life ban from Tynecastle Stadium by Hearts."G4S stewards, employed by Heart of Midlothian, sought to challenge offensive singing amongst both sets of fans when it occurred and correctly challenged other incidents of disorder.

"The SPL Board noted that both clubs implemented fully the Guidance for Clubs on Unacceptable Conduct issued by the SPL in 2007 to aid full compliance with SPL Regulations in this area.

"The SPL Board decided that no action should be taken against either club as the action taken by each club before, during and since the match was reasonable in all the circumstances."