Charges reported under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2016-2017

An analysis of charges reported under the Act to provide information about the nature of the charges, the accused and the victims of incidents.

Executive Summary

In 2016-17, there were 377 charges under section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (the Act), reported by the police to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). This is an increase of 32% on the 286 charges reported in 2015-16 and the highest number of 'offensive behaviour at football' charges since the Act was introduced. The increase is explained by the 140 charges associated with the Rangers v Hibernian Scottish Cup Final fixture held at Hampden stadium on 21 st May 2016.

This analysis should not be read as a direct measure of changes in offensive behaviour at and around football matches. It is a specific report measuring the number of charges made under Section 1 of the Act by Police Scotland. Not all offensive behaviour at football occurs in circumstances where the police are able to charge people for an offence under Section 1. The ability to pursue charges is influenced by decisions the police have made about when and where to deploy officers, and wider strategies for the policing of football.

We have now gathered data over a sufficient number of years to be able
to see that the changes and trends from year to year are often driven by a small number of specific events, and we need to be extremely cautious
about drawing conclusions from comparing data across different years.
This is particularly pertinent this year because of the high number of
charges associated with the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden stadium on
21 st May 2016.

In 2016-17, as with all previous years, the accused were mostly males. Of the 377 charges, 373 (99%) involved a male accused.

Thirty-one percent of the charges involved an accused aged 20 or under, 39% of charges involved an accused aged 21-30 and 30% were 31 or older.

The 117 charges involving an accused aged 20 or under is a 12% decrease compared with the 133 charges recorded in 2015-16. For this age group, 44 of this year's 117 charges were associated with the Scottish Cup Final. The 2016-17 figure is higher in terms of numbers of charges than in 2014-15, 2013-14 and 2012-13, but is lower in terms of the proportion of charges with an accused in this age group. For those charges involving an accused aged 21-30, there was an increase of 76% (63 charges) in the number of charges compared with last year. Fifty of the charges for this age group were associated with the Scottish Cup Final.

The accused were noted to be affiliated with 20 football teams - a decrease from last year when affiliation to 33 teams was noted. The accused had an affiliation with Rangers in 110 charges (29% of the total, with 60 of these charges associated with the Scottish Cup Final), Hibernian in 101 (27% of the total, with 75 of these charges associated with the Scottish Cup Final), Celtic in 60 (16% of the total) and Hearts in 17 (5% of the total).

The Act criminalises hateful, threatening or otherwise offensive behaviour that is likely to incite public disorder in relation to football. The most common category of offence in 2016-17 was threatening behaviour (79%), followed by hateful behaviour (17%) and otherwise offensive (10%).

Looking at the data over time shows that the spread of charges across these categories has changed. In 2012-13, there was a fairly even split between threatening behaviour (44%) and hateful behaviour (47%). In contrast, this year shows that a far greater proportion of charges relate to threatening behaviour (79%) than hateful behaviour (18%). This can be partly explained by the Scottish Cup Final where 45% of the charges on 2016-17 related to threatening behaviour occurred.

For the period 2016-17, there were 66 charges for hateful behaviour. This represents a 20% decrease from the 83 charges in 2015-16. Breaking down the hateful behaviour category further, 58 charges of hateful behaviour were religious hatred; this is a decrease of 8% on the 63 charges falling into this category in 2015-16.

Catholicism and Protestantism were the main religions targeted within the religious hatred category. Catholicism was the main target, with hateful behaviour reported towards this religion in 44 charges- 75% of the total of religious hatred charges (representing a decrease from last year where the 55 charges accounted for 87% of the total). There has been a slight increase in charges against Protestantism - 14 charges in 2016-17 compared with 8 in 2015-16.

The majority of the charges occurred at a football stadium (69%). This represents an increase of 85% from period 2015-16 (142 charges) to 2016-17 (262 charges). This increase can be explained by 137 of the 140 charges associated with the Scottish Cup Final 2016 occurring at Hampden stadium.

After charges occurring at football stadiums, the next most common are on a main street (19%), followed by public transport (8%). The number of charges occurring on public transport has decreased by 53% since last year. However, the number of charges in 2015-16 was particularly high compared to previous years and was partly attributed to two incidents which accounted for 26 of the 66 charges.

Charges were connected to 85 fixtures (a decrease of 27% from the 117 fixtures for period 2015-16). Of these fixtures, 79 were domestic matches, 5 were European competitions and 1 was an international match. It was not possible to identify which particular football fixture three charges were associated with.

The fixtures with the highest number of charges were: Rangers v Hibernian on 21 st May 2016 (140 charges); Hearts v Hibernian on 7 th February 2016 (34 charges); and Celtic v Rangers on 10 th September 2016 (23 charges). The charges for these three fixtures account for 52% of all charges; the Rangers v Hibernian match on 21 st May 2016 (the Scottish Cup Final 2016) accounts for 37% of the total of all charges for period 2016-17.

It is possible to have more than one victim type recorded for a single incident. In 2016-17, the community was at least one of the victim types in 269 charges. The next most common victim was members of the public (one of the victim types in 211 charges), followed by the police (one of the victim types in 59 charges), and workers (one of the victim types in 30 charges). This pattern is consistent with that observed in period 2015-16. However, the number in each victim category has increased since 2015-16. This is attributable firstly to the overall rise in the number of charges. Secondly, it is reflective of the fact that more charges this year have been assessed to have more than one victim type than previous years. This is particularly the case for the charges associated with the Scottish Cup Final where members of the public were noted as the victim for 110 of the 140 charges, and with the wider community noted to be the victim for 130 of the 140 charges (as the majority of the police incident reports for the Scottish Cup Final mentioned the impact on those present in the stadium as well as the large TV audience).

Court proceedings were commenced in 337 of the 377 charges (data extracted on 3 rd May 2017). Many cases are on-going and information about final convictions will be presented in the next Scottish Government 'Criminal Proceedings in Scotland' statistical publications [1] . Provisional findings show that of the 337 charges for which court proceedings had commenced, 196 had concluded and there were 145 convictions.

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 2016-17 there were 6 'threatening communication' (section 6 of the Act) charges reported to the COPFS.


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