Charges reported under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 in 2014-15

Analysis of Charges Reported Under the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications in Scotland in 2014-15

Executive Summary

In 2014-15 there were 193 charges under section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, reported by the police to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). This is a decrease of 6% on the 206 charges reported in 2013-14[1], and a reduction of 28% on the 267 charges reported in 2012-13.

In the 2014-15 period, the accused were mostly males. Of the 193 charges, 189 (98%) involved a male accused.

The age profile of the accused was older than 2013-14. The mean age in 2014-15 was 27, compared with 23 in 2013-14.

The accused had an affiliation with Rangers in 58 (30%) charges, Aberdeen in 30 (16%) charges, Celtic 19 (10%) charges, and Hibernian in 16 (8%). The number and proportion of charges where an affiliation with Rangers was noted has remained similar (there were 59 (29%) Rangers affiliations in 2013-14), however charges where the accused had an affiliation to Aberdeen and Hibernian have both slightly increased. The proportion of accused that had an affiliation with Celtic has decreased in the last year (in 2013-14 the accused had a Celtic affiliation in 44 charges - 22% of the total).

The Act criminalises hateful, threatening and otherwise offensive behaviour that is likely to incite public disorder in relation to football. The nature of the offence was threatening (e.g. including engaging in fighting or challenging others to fight) in 61% of the charges. It was 'hateful' (e.g. including negative references to religion, race, sexual orientation or other forms of hatred) in 30% of charges. It was 'otherwise offensive' (e.g. including a reference to celebration of loss of life or support of terrorist organisations) in 13% of charges. Some of these charges contained reference to more than one category.

Together these findings show a trend in a proportional rise of the charges that are threatening (from 44% of charges in 2012-13, 49% in 2013-14 and 61% in 2014-15), and decreases in charges including hateful (47% in 2012-13, 36% in 2013-14 and 30% in 2014-15) and otherwise offensive conduct (17% in 2012-13, 28% in 2013-14 and 13% in 2014-15).

Of the 58 charges relating to 'hateful' behaviour, 50 charges (26%) involved incidents of religious hatred, 4% involved racial hatred, and no charges involved sexual orientation. Some of the charges contained reference to more than one category. The proportion of hateful behaviour charges that referenced religion has reduced in the last three years (from 40% of charges in 2012-13, 30% in 2013-14).

Four religions were the focus of the 50 charges that referenced religion; Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Judaism, with some charges containing reference to more than one category. As in the last two years Roman Catholicism was the main religion that was the subject of the charges that related to religion. Forty-two of the charges (84%) included behaviour that was derogatory towards Roman Catholicism. Six charges (12%) included behaviour that was derogatory towards Protestantism. One charge included derogatory behaviour towards Judaism, and one charge included derogatory behaviour towards Islam.

Around a quarter of the charges (24%) took place in Glasgow, which may reflect the city's hosting of matches that draw some of the largest crowds. This follows a reducing trend from 2012-13 (when 42% of all charges were in Glasgow) and 2013-14 (35%). In 2014-15, there were increases in the number and proportion of charges in Dundee, but this was due to a large number of charges made at a single fixture.

Fewer charges occurred in football stadiums in 2014-15 than in 2013-14 and 2012-13. There were 89 charges in stadiums in 2014-15 (46% of the total), compared with 109 in 2013-14 and 165 in 2012-13. Few of the charges took place in Scotland's three largest football stadiums. There were 8 charges at Ibrox, 5 at Hampden and <5 at Celtic Park. This also reflects decreases in the number of charges happening at Ibrox (where there were 33 charges in 2012-13 and 17 in 2013-14) and Celtic Park (40 in 2012-13 and 23 in 2013-14) over the last 3 years.

In 2014-15 there were more charges outside football stadiums (54%) than inside stadiums (46%). This is a change from 2013-14 when there were more charges inside stadiums (54%) than outside (46%).

Thirty seven percent (71 charges) took place on a main street i.e. in a town or city centre, compared with 34% (70 charges) in 2013-14.

Of the football fixtures that charges related to, 16% of charges were connected to Dundee United v Aberdeen on 13 December 2014. Seven percent were connected to Hamilton v Motherwell on 24 September 2014, and 7% were connected to Scotland v England on 18 November 2014.

From the 193 charges reported to COPFS, court proceedings have commenced in 168. Many cases are on-going and information about final convictions will be presented in Scottish Government 'criminal proceedings' publications[2]. Provisional data however shows that of the 42 that have been concluded, there were 38 convictions (90%) which is a higher proportion of convictions from concluded charges that was reported in the 2013-14 report (65% proportion of convictions). This figure is subject to some uncertainty, particularly due to the lower proportion of charges concluded compared to this time last year (25% compared to 41%). The most common penalty was a fine (61% of convictions). There was one custodial sentence.

Section 6 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 introduced the offence of 'threatening communications' to address threats of serious harm and threats that incite hatred on religious grounds. In 2014-15 there were 5 communication charges reported to the COPFS. One of these was football related, 1 of these charges made reference to religion, 4 made a threat of serious harm.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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