Charges reported under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act (2012) in 2012-13

Information about charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) by the police in 2012-13 under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act (2012).

3. Findings

3.1 All of the information reported in this report refers to the 2012-13 financial year.

3.2 Before providing further details of these charges, it is worth highlighting that these 268 charges do not relate to 268 separate incidents. Many of the incidents involved more than one accused and will therefore have generated more than one charge. The analysis therefore relates to more charges than separate incidents.

3.3 There were 178 separate 'incidents' or occasions where charges were issued at the same time to one or more people. Most (79.2%) incidents related to single charges being issued, 10.1% of incidents resulted in 2 charges and the remaining 10.6% of incidents involved 3 or more charges being issued at the same time.

Table 1: Number of Accused/Incident per Charge

Number of charges Number of Separate Accused Number of Separate 'Incidents' % of 'Incidents'
1 141 141 79.2
2 35 18 10.1
3 12 4 2.2
4 15 4 2.2
5 30 7 3.9
6 10 2 1.1
7 7 1 0.6
8 0 0 0.0
9 9 1 0.6
Total 259 178 100.0

Sex/Age of the Accused

3.4 Within the 268 charges, which relate to 259 separate people, there were 256 male accused, and 3 female. Table 2 shows the age breakdown of the accused for each of the 268 offensive behaviour charges, 37.7% of charges related to accused who were aged between 21-30, 33.2% referred to those aged between 16 and 20. Fewer than 1% related to those over 60 and 2.6% to those under 16.

Table 2: Age Breakdown of Accused

Age Group Number of Charges %
Under 16 7 2.6
16-20 89 33.2
21-30 101 37.7
31-40 37 13.8
41-50 25 9.3
51-60 7 2.6
Over 60 2 0.7
Total 268 100.0

Alcohol and Drug Related Charges

3.5 The police reports described the accused as being under the influence of alcohol in 27.6% of the charges. This finding may under-report the links between alcohol and the offensive behaviour if there were cases where the police did not note that the accused had been drinking. It was also not possible to quantify the amount of alcohol consumed in any given case. Only a small number of charges involved drugs (1.5%). These were incidents where the police recorded that the accused was in possession of drugs or they suspected had taken drugs before the offence took place.

Table 3: Alcohol and Drug Related Charges

  Number of Charges %
Drink 73 27.6
Drugs 4 1.5

Note: the rows show the number and proportion of drink/drugs in all charges. Some may have included both drink and drugs.

Nature of the Offence

3.6 The Act criminalises behaviour which is hateful (section 1(2)(a)-(c)), threatening (section 1(2)(d)) or otherwise offensive to a reasonable person (section 1(2)(e)) and is likely to incite public disorder.

3.7 Hateful behaviour was most common, and used in 46.6% of the charges. There were 125 charges that included specific reference to religious, racial2 or other forms of hatred. Table 4 shows a breakdown of the proportions of these for each type of behaviour. Some charges may have included reference to more than one category.

3.8 Hateful behaviour relating to religious identity accounted for 39.6% of the total number of charges (although the motivation for some of these may have been to invoke a perceived racial or national identity) and 7.1% of the charges included racially offensive references. There were no reported charges for offensive behaviour targeting sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.

3.9 Threatening behaviour was second most common, used in 44.4% of the charges, and includes fighting and aggressive behaviour e.g. between rival fans.

3.10 Other behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive was the category of 17.2% of the charges. All of these 46 charges noted behaviour which referenced terrorism and terrorist organisations.

Table 4: Nature of Offence

    Number of Charges %
Hateful Behaviour   125 46.6
of which: Religion 106 39.6
  Race 19 7.1
  Sexual Identity 0 0.0
  Disability 0 0.0
  Transgender 0 0.0
Threatening Behaviour   119 44.4
Otherwise Offensive Behaviour   46 17.2

Note: Some charges contained reference to more than one category.

3.11 Of the 106 charges including religious offence there were three religious groups that were the subject of the charges: 88 (83.0%) charges were derogatory towards Roman Catholicism, 16 (15.1%) were derogatory towards Protestantism and 2 (1.9%) were derogatory towards Judaism. Roman Catholicism was the main target of abuse within the charges which referred to religiously hateful behaviour and accounted for 32.8% of the total number of all charges.

Method of Abuse

3.12 Table 5 outlines the method of abuse used within the charge. These refer to the method in which the abuse or offensiveness was conveyed.

3.13 In just over half of the charges (51.1%) speech was the method of abuse used by the accused, singing in 41.8% and generally offensive behaviour in 30.6% of charges. 'Generally offensive behaviour' refers to behaviour used by the accused which could not be categorised as the use of a banner, gesture, speech or singing. It could include aggressive behaviour and/or fighting. It could also include fans running onto the pitch.

Table 5: Method of Abuse

Method of Abuse Number of Charges %
Banner 9 3.4
Gesture 48 17.9
Speech 137 51.1
Singing 112 41.8
Generally Offensive Behaviour 82 30.6

Note: Some charges contained reference to more than one category.

Location of Charges

3.14 Table 6 shows the local authority area where the charges occurred. A substantial proportion (42.2%) of the total charges occurred in Glasgow (113 charges). This is likely to reflect the fact that Glasgow is home to the three largest football stadiums in Scotland. Other local authority areas that are notable are Edinburgh (where there were 24 charges) and South Lanarkshire (where there 23 charges). There were no charges at all in 15 local authorities in Scotland.

3.15 Five charges related to offensive behaviour at a regulated football match outside Scotland. These charges relate to a match in Northumberland, England between Berwick Rangers and Rangers on 23rd February 2013 at Shielfield Park. Section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour etc. Act applies to incidents taking place around regulated football matches outside Scotland.

Table 6: Local Authority Area where Charges Occurred3

Local Authority Area Number of Charges % Number of Charges Per 100,000 Population
Aberdeenshire 12 4.5 5
Angus 5 1.9 5
Dumfries & Galloway 6 2.2 4
Dundee City 14 5.2 10
East Lothian 1 0.4 1
Edinburgh, City of 24 9.0 5
Falkirk 12 4.5 8
Fife 7 2.6 2
Glasgow City 113 42.2 19
Highland 8 3.0 4
Moray 7 2.6 8
North Ayrshire 1 0.4 1
North Lanarkshire 9 3.4 3
Perth & Kinross 6 2.2 4
Renfrewshire 13 4.9 8
South Ayrshire 2 0.7 2
South Lanarkshire 23 8.6 7
Outside Scotland (Northumberland, England) 5 1.9  
Total 268 100.0  

Locus of Charges

3.16 The majority of charges (61.6%) took place at a football stadium, 22.4% occurred on a main street4 in a town or city centre and 6.3% were on public transport.

Table 7: Locus of Charges5

Locus of Offence Number of Charges %
Football Stadium 165 61.6
Main Street 60 22.4
Railway Station 7 2.6
Public Transport 17 6.3
Residential Area 8 3.0
Pub/Club/Bar 8 3.0
Other 3 1.1
Total 268 100.0

3.17 Table 8 shows the number of charges at football stadiums. The 3 largest football stadiums in Scotland were the locus for over half (52.7%) of all charges: there were 40 charges at Celtic Park (24.2%), 33 at Ibrox (20.0%) and 14 at Hampden Park (8.5%).

3.18 This information relates only to the stadium where the incident took place and does not identify the club affiliations of the victims or the accused, or whether these were 'home' or 'away' supporters.

Table 8: Charges from Incidents at Football Stadiums

Football Stadium Number of Charges %
Balmoor Stadium 6 3.6
Broadwood Stadium 6 3.6
Caledonian Stadium 6 3.6
Celtic Park 40 24.2
Glebe Park 5 3.0
Hampden Park 14 8.5
Ibrox Stadium 33 20.0
McDiarmid Park 6 3.6
Shielfield Park 5 3.0
Tannadice Park 10 6.1
Tynecastle Stadium 10 6.1
Other 24 14.5
Total 165 100.0

Football Affiliations of the Accused

3.19 The analysis included looking at the football affiliations of the accused, from information recorded by the police. The affiliation of the accused was noted in 258 of 268 case files (96%). The affiliation may have been apparent from the accused having a match ticket, or from their clothing (i.e. wearing a strip or scarf). Within the charges noted, 31.7% of the accused were described as having Rangers affiliations, 25.4% Celtic affiliations and 10.4% Hibernian affiliations.

Table 9: Football Affiliation of the Accused6

Football Affiliation Number of Charges %
Ayr United 6 2.2
Celtic 68 25.4
Dundee Utd 12 4.5
Falkirk 17 6.3
Hamilton 9 3.4
Hearts 13 4.9
Hibs 28 10.4
Rangers 85 31.7
Other 20 7.5
Unknown 10 3.7
Total 268 100.0

Timing of Charges

3.20 Chart 1 outlines the peak days of week and times of day for charges taking place. The main peak times are Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings and, to a lesser extent, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. This is consistent with the timings of football matches.

Chart 1: Day of Week and Time of Day

Chart 1: Day of Week and Time of Day

Football Fixtures

3.21 Table 10 shows a breakdown of the football fixtures where there were charges. Within the period of this analysis there were charges connected to 80 fixtures from the 2012-13 season, 71 domestic fixtures and 9 international matches.

3.22 The fixture with the highest number of charges was the Hamilton versus Falkirk game on 5 January 2013, where there were 23 charges, making up 8.6% of the total. These charges were the result of a police operation around the fixture where there was fighting on the streets of Hamilton prior to the game. Other fixtures with a relatively high number of charges were the Celtic versus Rangers match on 29th April 2012 at Celtic Park, St Mirren versus Hibs on 16 February 2013 at St Mirren Park, and Hibernian versus Hearts on 19th May 2012 at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup Final.

3.23 As noted earlier, the number of police charges issued at any given fixture may not represent the amount of offensive behaviour at or around a match and may also be influenced by the decisions the police have made about when and where to deploy their officers and their enforcement strategies. A fuller account of the relative prevalence and distribution of this behaviour would need to consider qualitative information about the context of the events and the policing operations.

Table 10: Football Fixtures Associated with Charges

Date of Fixture Fixture Number of Charges %
25/03/2012 Rangers v Celtic 9 3.4
15/04/2012 Celtic v Hearts 6 2.2
29/04/2012 Celtic v Rangers 19 7.1
19/05/2012 Hibs v Hearts 10 3.7
29/07/2012 Brechin City v Rangers 5 1.9
02/08/2012 Dundee Utd v Dinamo Moscow 7 2.6
11/08/2012 Peterhead v Rangers 5 1.9
30/08/2012 Rangers v Falkirk 5 1.9
15/09/2012 Annan Athletic v Rangers 5 1.9
26/09/2012 Rangers v Motherwell 5 1.9
28/11/2012 Hearts v Celtic 6 2.2
18/12/2012 Rangers v Annan Athletic 5 1.9
29/12/2012 Queens Park v Rangers 7 2.6
05/01/2013 Hamilton v Falkirk 23 8.6
12/02/2013 Celtic v Juventus 5 1.9
16/02/2013 Clyde FC v Rangers FC 6 2.2
16/02/2013 Falkirk v Dunfermline 5 1.9
16/02/2013 St Mirren v Hibs 11 4.1
19/02/2013 St Johnstone v Celtic 6 2.2
23/02/2013 Berwick Rangers v Rangers 6 2.2
Other Fixture   112 41.8
Total   268 100.0

Note: The 'other fixture' row includes the total charges from the 60 fixtures where there were four or fewer charges.


3.24 Information about the people targeted by offensive behaviour likely to incite public disorder is not separately recorded in the police report. For the purpose of this report the researchers made an assessment of who the main victims were, based on the police's description of the incident. Victims were identified as the main target for the offensive behaviour. The victim could have been a specific member of the public, the police, a worker, a footballer or the general 'community' (if, for example, someone was singing an offensive song that was not directed at any specific person but was directed at or could be offensive to passers-by, people in the vicinity or opposing fans). Each charge may have included multiple victim 'types'.

3.25 The 'community' were the victim of offensive behaviour in 45.9% of the charges. Specific members of the public were targeted in 38.4% of charges, the police in 13.1%, and workers (such as security staff, transport workers, footballers, and football coaches/managers) in 10.8% of charges.

Table 11: Victims of the Offensive Behaviour

Victim Number of Charges %
Community 123 45.9
Member of the Public 103 38.4
Police 35 13.1
Worker 29 10.8
Unidentified 2 0.7

Note: the number of charges do not add up to 268 because some charges related to behaviour which targeted more than one victim or victim type.

Criminal Proceedings

3.26 As explained in COPFS Hate Crime in Scotland 2012-13, court proceedings were commenced in 219 (82%) of charges.

3.27 The COPFS case management database provides information about convictions for concluded charges. This is provisional information and subject to change as charges are dealt with in the system. It shows that in 2012-13 there were 62 convictions from 95 concluded charges (43% of charges had been concluded at the time of this analysis). This is a conviction rate (ie the proportion of concluded charges that resulted in convictions) of 65%. In 2011-12 there were 25 convictions from 33 concluded charges, a conviction rate of 76%. For the full period of the first 13 months of the act, there were therefore 87 convictions from 128 concluded charges which is an overall conviction rate of 68%.

3.28 Charges that conclude quickly may not be representative of all charges. They may have concluded quickly because they were the most straightforward cases or those where there was an early guilty plea. It is therefore possible that final conviction rates will be different from those quoted here.

3.29 The main court disposals for convictions in 2012-13 are shown in table 12. The most common disposal recorded was a monetary penalty which was given in 61.3% of charges, a community penalty (a community payback order) was given in 17.7% of charges, a football banning order in 8.1% of charges (this number only represents the occasions when these orders were handed out as the main disposal for the charge - they can also be awarded in conjunction with other disposals), a warning was given in 4.8% of charges and imprisonment in 3.2% of charges.

Table 12: Main court disposals

Disposal Number of Charges %
Absolute discharge 3 4.8
Community Penalty 11 17.7
Custody 2 3.2
Football Banning Order 5 8.1
Monetary Penalty 38 61.3
Warning 3 4.8
Total 62 100.0

Section 6 of the Act - Threatening Communications

3.30 The Act also introduced measures to address threats of serious harm and threats that incite hatred on religious grounds, not confined to football settings. In 2012-13 there were 20 threatening communications charges reported to COPFS. Eight of these charges were football related incidents. Six of the charges related to charges which incited hatred on religious grounds, 14 of the charges related to threats of serious harm. These charges are not analysed in any more detail within this report because of the small number of charges and the consequent risk of the disclosure of the identities of the accused and the fact that cases may still be ongoing.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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