Charges under the 'Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) act 2012' in 2015-16

Analysis of charges reported under the act to provide information about the nature of the charges, the accused and the victims of incidents, reported under offensive behaviour at football and threatening communications legislation.

Executive summary

In 2015-16 there were 287 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 an increase of 49% on the 193 charges reported in 2014-15 but is similar to the 267 charges reported in the first full year of the legislation (2012-13).

This analysis does not provide a straightforward measure of changes in behaviour at and around football matches, and the trends and findings noted in this report are within the context of the policing of this behaviour. Not all offensive behaviour at football comes to the attention of the police, or in circumstances where police are able to charge people for an offence. The information that is reported by the police to COPFS is influenced by the decisions the police have made about when and where to deploy their officers and wider strategies for the policing of football.

Of the 287 charges, 281 (98%) involved a male accused. Forty-six per cent of the charges involved an accused aged 20 or under, 29% noted an accused aged 21-30 and 25% were 31 or older.

The charges with an accused aged 20 or under have increased since 2014-15 (from 71 to 133 in 2015-16) as has the proportion of all charges with an accused in this age group (37% to 46%). An individual can have more than one charge in the course of a year. When looking at a charges involving an accused aged 20 or under, 39% of these charges do not have a unique accused (compared with 24% in 2014/15).

There was an increase of 50% in the number of football teams that the accused was noted to be affiliated with - from 22 in 2014-15 to 33 in 2015-16. The accused was noted to have an affiliation with Rangers in 71 charges (25% of the total) charges, Celtic in 27 (9%), Kilmarnock in 26 (9%), Hearts in 25 (9%) and St Mirren 21 (7%%). The number of charges where it was noted that the accused had an affiliation with Rangers has increased (up from 58 in 2014-15) but is a smaller proportion of the overall charges (down from 30% in 2014-15). The number of charges where it was noted that the accused had an affiliation with Celtic has increased (up from 19 charges in 2014-15) but proportionally stayed the same since 2014-15.

The Act criminalises hateful, threatening and otherwise offensive behaviour that is likely to incite public disorder in relation to football. The most common category of offence in 2015-16 was threatening behaviour (66%), followed by those categorised as 'hateful' (29%) and otherwise offensive (10%). All these categories have increased since 2014-15 in line with the overall increase in charges.

Sixty-three 'hateful' behaviour charges were religious hatred - a rise of 26% since last year in this type of offending. Catholicism and Protestantism were the sole religious groups that were targeted. Catholicism was the main target of the offensive behaviour in 55 charges - 87% of the total religious hatred charges.

The majority of charges occurred at a football stadium (50%), followed by a main street (24%) and public transport (23%). While each of these have increased since 2014-15, charges occurring on public transport now account for a higher proportion of all charges: in 2015-16 there were 66 charges (23% of total charges) that took place on public transport, compared with 10 charges (5%) in 2014-15. This increase in charges is partly due to an incident (linked to Livingston v St Mirren 17 th October 2015) when there were 19 charges on public transport and an incident (linked to Kilmarnock v Partick Thistle on 28 th November 2015) when there were 7 charges on public transport

There is evidence of the use of the Act at a greater number of stadiums and fixtures. There was an increase in the number of stadiums where there was at least one charge - from 21 stadiums in 2014-15 to 29 in 2015-16.

Charges were connected to 117 fixtures - a rise of 117% from 54 fixtures in 2014-15. Of these fixtures 110 were domestic, 5 were European competitions, and 2 were an international matches. Three charges could not be directly associated with any particular football fixture.

The fixtures with the highest number of charges were Hearts v Kilmarnock (20 charges) on 3rd October 2015, Livingston v St Mirren (19 charges) on 17th October 2015, and Kilmarnock v Partick Thistle (14 charges) on 28 th November 2015. The charges from these three incidents accounted for 18% of the total number of charges for the year and were all related to threatening behaviour.

The local authorities where the majority of the charges took place were in Edinburgh (20%) and Glasgow (20%) which when taken together account for 40% of the total charges. This may reflect the two cities hosting some of matches that draw some of the largest crowds. The 58 charges in Edinburgh represents an increase compared to the 30 charges in 2014-15. The increase in charges for Edinburgh is partially due to one game (Hearts v Kilmarnock on the 3rd October 2015) when there were 20 charges. For Glasgow the 56 charges represents an increase compared to the 46 charges in 2014-15.

In 2015-16, the community was at least one of the victim types in 185 charges . The next most common was members of the public (at least one of the victim types in 88 charges) followed by the police (at least one of the victim types in 39 charges) and workers (at least one of the victim types in 25 charges).

Court proceedings were commenced in 214 of the 287 charges. Many cases are on-going and information about final convictions will be presented in Scottish Government 'criminal proceedings' publications [1] . Provisional findings show that of the 214 charges for which court proceedings had commenced, 86 had concluded and there were 73 convictions (85%).

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 2015-16 there were 7 'threatening communications' (section 6 of the Act) charges reported to the COPFS.


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