An evaluation of Section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

An Evaluation of the implementation and impact of section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

3. The legislation and its implementation in practice

3.1 This chapter examines the introduction, targeting and experience of the legislation, both through the eyes of officials but also through the experience and perceptions of football fans. As will become readily apparent through this chapter, the implementation of the Act cannot be discussed in isolation from how it is implemented and enforced.

Police and club officials: Awareness and training

3.2 The Act came into force in March 2012, and a notable feature of its introduction was that charges under the Act very quickly followed. This rapid uptake was unsurprising given the aforementioned investment in criminal justice 'infrastructure' in the previous twelve months.

3.3 This investment ensured that training and awareness-raising of wider agencies and stakeholders was far advanced by the time of the legislation's enactment. Unsurprisingly, police and club security officials interviewed for this research had a reasonably confident grasp of the legislation and its implications, and many had taken opportunities to be briefed on the Act by police officers from FoCUS.

3.4 Though police officers expressed various degrees of support for the Act, and varying levels of appreciation for the initial operational activities of FoCUS, a substantial majority acknowledged that the operational implications of the Act had been effectively communicated both through various forms of briefing and direct training (often provided by FoCUS) and via email, web communications, and in particular via FoCUS' e-learning package.

3.5 Although some police officers questioned whether section 1 of the Act added anything new to the powers available under prior legislation, other officers talked about the Act as providing a new simplicity and therefore a new clarity - particularly around sectarian behaviour and offensiveness - that had been previously lacking.

before there was ridiculous ambiguity because invariably a lot of things boil down to being a breach of the peace that' it a breach of the peace, is it not? It depends what way the wind was blowing etcetera etcetera, a million and one factors and interpretation and discretion on the part of the police, whereas the legislation has now fine-tuned things dramatically so that there's still degrees of ambiguity on occasion but in the main it's negated all of that (middle-ranking Police Officer).

3.6 Whereas under prior legislation the prejudice element of an offence was often only seen as practically enforceable as an offence when combined with the accused clearly posing some direct threat to order[49] , under the new legislation some officers felt that the very act of publicly expressing an offensive sentiment was in, and of itself, denounced as unambiguously wrong and unlawful.

Breach of the peace is breach of the peace what we were doing for the first time is we were criminalising sectarian behaviour, that in itself is a success for me…[….] you've actually turned them into outcasts, you've been far more explicit. (Senior Police Officer)

there is a clear line there… it's pretty straightforward…if you sing anything that's offensive and it's clearly of religious, sectarian background then you are going to get arrested' (Club security official)

3.7 It is this element which was viewed by many of our police respondents as distinguishing section 1 from both the section 38 offence and common law breach of the peace.

3.8 It was also thought that this new clarity made it easier for officers to write police reports that clearly linked the behaviour witnessed to the relevant legislation.

I know there has been a lot of critics out there about the legislation and stuff like that but I feel it's better for us, it's in your face you can see exactly where everything fits and it all fits quite neatly into each subsection of the different categories under the offences, under the charges (middle ranking, Police Officer)

3.9 Progressing cases was also considered to be much simpler because there was no longer the perceived need to justify charges by demonstrating that remarks made within a stadium posed a real risk of provoking disorder, or linking the remarks to an identifiable individual who would testify to being offended. Moreover, some offensive words or gestures which were associated with celebrating or supporting terrorism or terrorist organisations, but which were difficult to prosecute under either breach of the peace or section 38, now clearly fell within the ambit of the new legislation.

we discussed some of the songs with the fiscal before the legislation came in um...and unfortunately due to the fact that it was in support of terrorist groups it was hard to fit it into that Section 38 or a breach of the peace um...but when the new legislation came in then that just...fitted in, it was perfect (middle ranking Police Officer)

3.10 However, both fans and police officers in particular detected varying levels of ability among frontline officers' skills in applying the legislation, and in having a nuanced understanding of sectarian issues. Although FoCUS officers were present at most high risk football matches in the year following the introduction of the legislation, and indeed this intensity of enforcement activity was widely noted by respondents, some respondents questioned whether the same degree of attention and expertise was being paid to offensive behaviour occurring at lower-risk matches and outwith the stadia.

Whilst there's been a push to challenge it in the football stadia, there's been nothing in the environs where in actual fact if I was in the underground coming here, or in a bus going to Celtic park, or in any other crowd and that was ongoing that would be much more terrifying for me. If I come (into the ground) and I can hear someone singing a song way over there, to be honest with you it doesn't even affect me (Club security official)

3.11 A frequent fan complaint was that inexperienced police officers were also making inconsistent and/or erroneous judgements on what was, and was not, offensive under the legislation, acting in effect as the stand-in for the 'reasonable person'. Although the legislation was seen by many to provide a clear message that sectarian offensiveness was wrong, what the legislation did not do was clearly specify when behaviour crossed a threshold to become offensive. Some fans had raised concerns about the legislation to their MSPs and had been told that it was for the police to make that determination; conversely, some police interviewees were of the view that this task was one for politicians and not for them. In fact, as a more experienced officer was quick to note, it is for the courts to make this determination and to interpret what would be offensive to a 'reasonable person'. Nevertheless, this did not remove the difficulty for frontline officers in quickly deciding whether an act or speech within the context of a football match was likely to be interpreted as such by a court:

It's really quite challenging because you have to make a judgement but you won't know for months down the line and it might be the court says no actually...that doesn't fit, it's not offensive, or it wasn't likely to incite public disorder etcetera etcetera. But the good thing is, with … the vast majority of the common behaviours now there have been convictions […] so it's not just 'the police picking on people' now. You can't follow that argument anymore because the courts have actually decided (Football Intelligence Officer)

Fan awareness and perspectives

3.12 Given the rapid uptake in use of the Act, the relative intensity of police activity around the Act in the first year, and the controversy that some of this activity generated among some fan groups, it is unsurprising that basic fan awareness of the Act was high. In our survey, over four-fifths of supporters (83%) had heard of the Act (see Table 3.1). Awareness of the Act was greater in 2014 than in 2013, although some of this may be due to an increase in awareness caused by participation in the 2013 survey. Supporters of Rangers and Celtic had significantly greater awareness of the Act than supporters of other clubs, on average.

Table 3.1 Knowledge of OBFT Act by club supported (2014)

Have you read or heard anything at all about the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act before now? Yes
Club supported
Celtic 94 (+5) 6 (-5) 423
Rangers 92 (+9) 8 (-9) 249
Other clubs 79 (+5) 21 (-5) 1513
All clubs 83 (+6) 17 (-6) 2185
Base 2185

N.B. Figures in brackets show percentage point change from 2013 survey

3.13 However, despite general awareness of the Act being high, many supporters did not feel that they had a deep level of awareness of what it involves (see Table 3.2). Just under a third of supporters who had heard of the Act (27%), said they knew a lot about it, with just over two-thirds (69%) saying they knew a little. Celtic and Rangers supporters felt that they had a greater in-depth knowledge of the Act than supporters of other clubs, on average. Celtic supporters, in particular, expressed deeper knowledge, with over half of those who had heard of the Act (52%) saying they knew a lot about it.

Table 3.2 Depth of knowledge of Act, by club supported (2014)

How much would you say you know about the Act?
(asked of those who report having heard of the Act)
A lot
A little
Club supported
Celtic 52 (+17) 47 (-14) 1 (-3) 397
Rangers 34 (+7) 62 (-8) 4 (+1) 228
Other clubs 17 (+2) 77 (-4) 5(+1) 1196
All clubs 27 (+7) 69 (-7) 4 (-) 1821
Base 1821

N.B. Figures in brackets show percentage point change from 2013 survey

3.14 However, although general awareness of the Act was high, detailed awareness did appear to vary, and fans were often of the view that neither police nor club officials presented them with enough information to give them a sufficient idea of what was, and was not, acceptable behaviour. Fans talked about pre-match announcements and match programme 'inserts' being so general, unspecific and 'automated' as to be unnoticeable, a view shared by some officials:

there's not been I would say any direct communication with fans in that respect, there's just been a general 'disclaimer'… for want of a word (Football Intelligence Officer )

3.15 However, there was evidence of good practice at some clubs, with one respondent from a recently promoted team referring to how good the club was in providing the fans with tailored information in a booklet about their new rivals, and how being drawn into certain types of 'banter' with them could risk sanction (Fan Focus group 7).

3.16 More general fan complaints that the police failed to communicate with them, and in particular that FoCUS failed to reach out to fans and that it simply launched into a punitive stage of enforcement, were not borne out by interviews with some other police officers and club officials who noted that FoCUS had in fact offered to meet fan groups to explain the legislation and their policing tactics:

Now, to be fair to FoCUS and other senior officers they have spoken with groups that are willing to listen to them. They've explained their filming policy, they've explained their destruction of films policy, they have… gave them an insight into what they are required to do in terms of the legislation, what they should sing, what they shouldn't sing to.(Club security official)

In the early days of FoCUS there was an education phase, it wasn't just instance criminalisation, but very few people paid attention. A couple of games there was no enforcement, people were just warned that with the new legislation they would be charged. But people didn't take it on board. (middle ranking Police Officer)

3.17 Some fans, similarly to many officials, questioned the practical value of the Act in terms of adding anything - in technical terms - to pre-existing legislation. Nevertheless, they appreciated its symbolic significance:

is it necessary given the other criminal offences that can be committed? And strictly, it's probably not, you could probably sanction that behaviour before. But now it's explicit and the numbers are going to add up. And it's going to become very visible who the perpetrators are, and what it is that's happening. Because … although it's quite broad, it pins it down to...more than breach of the peace. - (Fan Focus Group 4)

3.18 Regardless of the quality of communication, our survey shows that a large majority of supporters view it as offensive to sing songs about people's religious backgrounds or beliefs, with around 85% of all fans agreeing in both survey sweeps. Even more people, 90% in 2014, agree that songs celebrating loss of life are offensive, though fewer think that political gestures are offensive (60%) 82% of fans find it offensive when supporters sing songs in support of terrorist organisations.

3.19 Supporters' views about more general behaviour at football matches were varied and nuanced but also largely stable between 2013 and 2014, where the same question was asked in both years (see Table 3.3). For example, in 2014, a small majority of supporters (55%) reported sometimes being offended by things they hear at football matches, while half of supporters agreed with the view that 'people go to football matches to let off steam and what they say should not be taken seriously'.

Table 3.3 Agreement with statements on behaviour at football (2014)

Whether agree with statement Strongly agree
Slightly agree
Neither agree,
nor disagree
Slightly disagree
Strongly disagree
Statement about behaviour at football
'Sometimes I'm offended by things I hear other supporters shouting, chanting or singing at football matches' 19 (+2) 36 (-) 15 (-) 11 (-1) 20 (-) 2175
'People go to football matches to let off steam - what they say should not be taken seriously' 12 (-1) 38 (+3) 12 (-4) 19 (-) 19 (+1) 2169
'Sometimes I worry about the effect of other supporters' behaviour (or language) on people I go to football matches with' 10 (-) 26 (+1) 24 (-) 14 (-1) 26 (-) 2158
'It is offensive to sing, chant or shout things about people's religious background or beliefs at football matches' 69 (-1) 16 (+1) 7 (-1) 4 (+1) 4 (-) 2174
"I find it offensive when supporters sing songs in support of terrorist organisations" 73 (N/A) 9 (N/A) 9 (N/A) 3 (N/A) 6 (N/A) 2166
"I find it offensive when supporters sing songs which glorify or celebrate events involving the loss of life or serious injury" 80 (N/A) 10 (N/A) 5 (N/A) 2 (N/A) 3 (N/A) 2166
"I find it offensive when supporters make political gestures at football matches" 40 (N/A) 20 (N/A) 17 (N/A) 8 (N/A) 15 (N/A) 2153

N.B. Figures in brackets show percentage point change from 2013 survey

3.20 Regardless of the quality of communication, our survey suggested that there was a clear degree of agreement across the wider fan group regarding the sorts of behaviour which could be viewed as offensive.

Table 3.4 Whether it is offensive to sing, chant or shout things about people's religious background by club supported (2014)

'It is offensive to sing, chant or shout things about people's religious background or beliefs at football matches' Strongly agree
Slightly agree
Neither agree,
nor disagree
Slightly disagree
Strongly disagree
Club supported
Celtic 65 (-) 17 (-) 8 (-) 5 (-) 5 (-) 420
Rangers 35 (-7) 25 (+4) 18 (-3) 9 (+3) 13 (+3) 249
Other clubs 76 (+2) 14 (+1) 5 (-1) 3 (+1) 2 (-2) 1505
All clubs 69 (-1) 16 (+1) 7 (-1) 4 (+1) 4 (-) 2174
Base 2174

N.B. Figures in brackets show percentage point change from 2013 survey

3.21 Rangers and Celtic fans demonstrated distinctive attitudes to whether certain types of songs or chants were offensive. Three new questions relating to attitudes about potentially offensive behaviour were asked on the 2014 survey (see the bottom three categories in Table 3.3). For instance, Rangers supporters were less likely to think that it was offensive to make comments about religious background (60%) compared to supporters of all clubs (85%). Conversely, Celtic supporters were much less likely to agree that is it is offensive to sing songs in support of terrorist organisations (47%) compared to supporters of all clubs (82%) and make political gestures at football matches (28%[50]), compared to supporters of all clubs (60%) - see tables 3.5 and 3.6).

Table 3.5 Whether it is offensive for supporters to sing songs in support of terrorist organisations (2014)

"I find it offensive when supporters sing songs in support of terrorist organisations" Strongly agree
Slightly agree
Neither agree,
nor disagree

Slightly disagree
Strongly disagree
Club supported
Celtic 32 15 22 11 20 416
Rangers 76 9 8 2 5 249
Other clubs 84 8 5 1 2 1501
All clubs 73 9 9 3 6 2166
Base 2166

N.B. Figures in brackets show percentage point change from 2013 survey

Table 3.6 Whether it is offensive for supporters to make political gestures at football matches (2014)

"I find it offensive when supporters make political gestures at football matches" Strongly agree
Slightly agree
Neither agree,
nor disagree

Slightly disagree
Strongly disagree
Club supported
Celtic 18 11 12 13 47 415
Rangers 43 19 22 6 10 246
Other clubs 46 23 18 7 6 1492
All clubs 40 20 17 8 15 2153
Base 2153

N.B. Figures in brackets show percentage point change from 2013 survey

3.22 These tables evidence distinct patterns based on the club-allegiance of respondents. The songs that Rangers fans were most resistant to stop singing were considered (by police officials in the qualitative research) to be mostly offensive to other people's religious background or ethnicity (i.e. relating to 'Irish-Catholicism'), whereas the songs that Celtic fans were most resistant to stop singing were either viewed as 'political' and/or songs that were seen as directly celebratory of terrorist organisations or individuals who had been involved in terrorism.

3.23 Although some of the songs, chants and gestures made by Rangers and Celtic clearly fell within the category of offensive behaviour as defined by the Act, others were more problematic and more disputed. There were several clear areas of disagreement as to where the boundaries lay between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Although in our focus groups with Rangers and Celtic fans, most respondents disapproved of extreme songs and lyrics, there were also certain 'borderline' songs which some clubs and fans alike viewed as acceptable even though the police were seen to be branding them as 'sectarian'. The two main types of ambiguity focused on songs, chants or displays that made some mention of organisations or movements that, at some point, could have been associated with sectarian terrorist organisations, but which at other points in time could have been associated with either legitimately political or otherwise legitimate organisations. The second type of ambiguity (often intertwined with the first) was expressing a cultural identity in a form that could not be shown to directly communicate any hatred or opposition to another's culture, ethnicity or religion, but which could be construed as offensive simply because that cultural identity was viewed as provocative or 'oppositional' by others. For some this amounted to criminalising legitimate expressions of identity:

If you're no' doing anything that's...we keep going back to sectarian or racist or homophobic or anything like that...then there's nothing the matter with being different from the next supporter. There's nothing the matter with having different views and different songs and celebrating different cultures. These things should be celebrated. (Fan Focus group 1)

The legislation had been designed to tackle the extreme ends of criminality; whether it's sectarianism or racism or general abusive behaviour in all its forms. […..] The problem seems to be…the grey area in the middle. The legislation, by its design, allows the authorities to look at that grey area and draw conclusions in their view whether it's worthy of prosecution or not. And that to me has been a problem. (Club security official)

3.24 Because Parliament had decided not to provide a definitive list of offensive songs, gesture or words, clubs had shied away from trying to provide definitive guidance to their fans for fear of either advising as 'acceptable' behaviour which might be illegal, or alienating fans through definitively labelling as 'offensive' songs viewed by them as acceptable. However, although early in the evaluation some respondents claimed that fans were consequently genuinely uncertain as to whether a particular song, flag or set of words might, or might not, fall within the remit of the Act, in practice, there seems to have been little real confusion amongst fan respondents about what actions were likely to run the risk of prosecution. Fans did not in many instances agree that certain activities should fall within the purview of the legislation; but there seemed to be little doubt that singing the song in the first place would risk police attention and possible arrest.

3.25 Even where fans did view many of the traditional Rangers and Celtic supporters' songs as problematic now, there was still opposition to legislation which criminalised fans who sang them. In the view of a number of respondents, the songs had been on the wane anyway and efforts to replace and marginalise them pre-dated the legislation. There was also a commonly-expressed resentment voiced by Rangers and Celtic fans that the focus of the legislation was on Rangers and Celtic, when other fan groups were seen as being similarly offensive on occasion, without being similarly targeted (the behaviour of some England fans in the recent international fixture against Scotland being a case in point[51]). Another argument cited by some supporters is that they believe the legislation undermines freedom of speech; they do not believe that particular songs/chants/banners (which they believe are being targeted) are offensive or sectarian but are in fact a legitimate expression of particular identities. Certainly, the figures presented below do partially support the contention that the policing is heavily focused on these two teams[52], and although it is not possible to determine whether this concentration of enforcement is proportionate to the level of 'offensiveness' across Scottish football, certainly focus groups with other clubs' fans elicited many examples of equivalently offensive songs and chants, but also a common contention that offensiveness outside of Rangers and Celtic fixtures was, regardless of the precise content, not of the same order of seriousness.

A lot of football songs are banter, are really funny …[…..] Yes! […]… And when they cut you to pieces, you get really annoyed, but you can't help but snigger. Because do you remember when XXX were playing XXX they all started singing, 'All the XXX are Gay' [Yeah] And you know, 'oh it is homophobic'. […..]

the banter that can go back and forward between football fans, and you can hear them singing things, and you think "God I wish we had thought of that one!' [laughter] And it is brilliant and it is funny and it can be cutting. Sometimes it is pretty close to the edge, it is not PC. […..]

What I would say with the Old Firm is there is nothing like that, it always comes back down to the same stuff about stupid Irish battles, and this and that and the next thing. And you think, 'get lost!' (Fan Focus group 5)

Legal understanding and interpretation of the Act

3.26 Sheriffs and fiscals were asked how they had first become aware of the legislation and what training if any they had received. Some had had formal training. Most interviewees focused on gaining personal experience and sharing knowledge, whether informally or through online judicial resource networks. Several of the sheriffs and fiscals were football supporters themselves; others had been taken to observe matches and the match policing and said that this had been particularly helpful. In Glasgow there is sharing of knowledge among sheriffs, who highlight aspects of legislative areas in which they have a particular expertise. One specialist in football banning orders[53] has prepared briefing papers that are now available on the judicial intranet.

3.27 Sheriffs and fiscals were also asked what behaviour they thought the 2012 Act was targeting, and what 'sort' of fan the legislature had had in mind. Again, views varied. The fiscals focused on the need to target large-scale disturbances and capturing ringleaders of violent disorder and offensive group singing and group chanting (not just 'sectarian' behaviours), and emphasised their role in developing a consistent prosecutorial practice across Scotland, particularly as regards the interpretation of songs and the requesting of football banning orders. Consistent interpretation of songs did not however mean that there would always be the same decision to prosecute. One fiscal said that they might decide to prosecute for instance where a bar had become known to the public as a 'no-go' area, but if the same songs were being sung in a 'bar in Oban' and were not disturbing the community, it might be sufficient in the first instance to have words with the landlord or customers. The prosecutorial decision would depend on the basis of what the harm was to people within that community.

3.28 Fiscals emphasised that they were encountering cases not just of 'sectarianism' or religious bigotry but also of other problems such as organised violence, homophobia and racism, although it was not generally felt that the latter two were widespread among fans, but rather concentrated in a minority.

3.29 The fiscals were supportive of the legislation and its surrounding mechanisms, such as FoCUS: they said that it had enabled the fiscal service to work more effectively on a long-running problem and liaise more closely with the police. 'Generally, working with the legislation and being aware of its criticisms I prefer it to the alternatives. It gives a stronger focus around behaviour at football' (Fiscal 2). The hardest cases, they found, were not surprisingly the songs cases: 'I think that the offensive singing in particular is one that has been problematic and challenging and probably will continue to be because there are different interpretations of some of the songs. Some of them are more obviously offensive than others, and I think we'll need to keep testing those kinds of cases.' (Fiscal 1) There was little enthusiasm however among fiscals and sheriffs for creating a list of banned songs, appealing as this would be. As one fiscal said, 'the idea of providing a list is incredibly attractive but impossible. If you have illegal ones you'll quickly come up with ones that are similar but which aren't on the list.' (Fiscal 3)

3.30 Sheriffs predominantly expressed some support for the Act, mixed with criticism. One sheriff strongly praised it: 'I'm very supportive of what the Scottish government is trying to do about this' (Sheriff 5); another said 'I don't have any problems with it coming in.' (Sheriff 4) One was emphatically critical: 'it is completely unnecessary, a ridiculous over-reaction and a wrong reaction which allowed the people who caused the trouble to avoid responsibility and turned the attention to the supporters. The Rangers players and their manager were the ones responsible … it's extraordinarily restrictive and far-reaching' (Sheriff 7). Another felt it was an unnecessary response to pressure from UEFA, and an unwarranted restriction on the singing of traditional football songs (Sheriff 2). The others were critical of elements but supportive of its purpose: 'I don't really have a problem with the Act in principle … it does have its good bits - in principle it is no bad thing to have legislation which tells people if you engage in incidents of overtly sectarian behaviour' (Sheriff 6) and 'it's a valiant attempt to try and do something and I think you have got to be slow and steady and sensible about policing it.' (Sheriff 1) Even its unpopularity with the press was cited by one sheriff, who was supportive of the Act, as having the valuable effect of 'keeping the spotlight on the issue … so many people don't attend football matches and really have no idea what the behaviour is like, that I think it is quite helpful for it to come back into the public consciousness' (Sheriff 5).

3.31 The two main criticisms sheriffs expressed were of the statutory wording and of a lack of discretion. The legislative language attracted a variety of disapproving observations by the sheriffs, not all of which can easily be reconciled. One said, for instance, that he considered most of section 1 to be clear but found the phrase 'an expression of hatred' difficult to interpret and argued that this made it difficult for fans to identify what songs should be excluded: he would prefer that the section was simply phrased as in section 1(2)(e), 'behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive'. Defining 'hatred' was however what concerned him most: 'most of the expressions are well explained' but 'that is a very difficult thing to prove. Because what you actually get are expressions of sentiment. It might be bad sentiment; it might be wrong sentiment; but what sort of evidence do we need to convert that sentiment into hatred?' However, he felt that the number of problematic cases being heard was so small that it was not a significant problem for the courts (Sheriff 2).

3.32 In contrast, another sheriff objected strongly to the phrase 'behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive' and said that 'the way in which the Appeal Court has defined 1(2)(e) creates extraordinary restrictions on freedom of thought and expression.' This concerned him because, he said, in practice this part of the section ('behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive') was being used more often to prosecute than the parts which had received more publicity ('expressing hatred', 'stirring up hatred' and 'behaviour motivated by hatred'). He also criticised as too wide the Appeal Court's interpretation of the requirement that conduct 'would be likely to incite disorder' (section 1(5)(b)): '(it seems) if you sing a song in Dingwall which would provoke a sectarian hothead in Glasgow were he to hear it, that will suffice'. (Sheriff 7)

3.33 Another pair of contrasting views can be seen in two sheriffs' discussion of the term 'in relation to a football match'. One described it as 'Draconian, potentially incredibly broad' (Sheriff 6); another said that 'it has to relate to "a football match", not just "football", so having an argument about football, about a particular team, isn't covered. So the offence has to relate to a specific game, not the game in general or an opposing team in general. But (the s 51(3)) qualification does not exist in England - it is enough that it relates to a football match, and to me that is more sensible.' (Sheriff 7) It is not that the sheriffs are in conflict. Rather, any legal term may need to be broad for one purpose and narrow for another, making the choice of language no easy matter.

3.34 The lack of discretion in implementing section 1 concerned two of the sheriffs. One supported having the legislation but said that it was essential that some discretion remained with police and fiscals: 'what we've seen in other contexts is … no discretion by police or fiscal, and then cases coming up to court which are just laughable, which would set the whole thing back. I'm not saying it's happened yet, in the context of this legislation, but I think that's where you have got to be very careful about it.' (Sheriff 1)

3.35 The only case that has clarified the law in this area is MacDonald v Cairns[54], which illustrates the very wide breadth of section 1. The Appeal Court ruled that the sheriff had misdirected himself when he dismissed the case on the grounds that the respondent had not offended anyone present, and that no-one would have been incited to an act of disorder on the basis of what he was singing. The Appeal Court stated that 'if the police officers were able to recognise the song and hear the words, other persons must also have been able to do so', but it emphasised that it was not necessary for anyone likely to be incited to disorder to be present. In its view it was not relevant to the question of whether there had been a contravention of section 1 that particular persons in a football ground could not actually hear the words being sung. 'In other words the actual context within which the behaviour occurs is not determinative' (para 12). The section created a new offence with, as the Appeal Court noted, 'an extremely long reach'. Although sheriffs who regularly hear section 1 cases said that most involved pleas of guilty, so the evidence was not contested, 'borderline' offensive singing cases were considered challenging because of the question of how to interpret the impact of the songs. The guidance from Cairns will be helpful in that regard. Clearly, some traditional songs, when sung without any additional lyrics or verses, could be said to have no words that directly express hatred, but much depends on context. Football rivalry is often creative and can mutate rapidly. A message of bigotry may be conveyed by something as subtle as a brief gesture or a meaningful pause where words are implied but not sung. This presents a difficulty for law because communities' perceptions of what is banter and what is hatred may shift over time, and not all acts of antagonism are sufficiently offensive that they should be deemed to cross the criminal threshold. Deciding this will depend on several factors, ranging from the sheriff's general or local knowledge, to the current banned status of a particular song at a particular club. So, as one sheriff emphasised, if sheriffs are to apply section 1 consistently, they require not just guidance from prosecutors and appeal decisions, but a consistently high quality of evidence from witnesses.

Targeting of the Act

3.36 Outside those matches involving either Celtic or Rangers, most police respondents felt that the Act had made little difference to the categories of behaviour that were the focus of policing. Although the legislation was clearly being used, it was simply being applied to behaviour that previously would have been prosecuted as breach of the peace or section 38.

3.37 With regards to the new offences created by the Act, it was felt that they were being applied to behaviours specific to Rangers and Celtic fans - or at least specific to matches involving one of these clubs. A number of officers spoke of the potential for other fan groups to make offensive remarks or sing offensive songs but only on the occasion of playing one of these teams. This targeting of the legislation at Rangers and Celtic fans was very much supported by some, who felt the Act's enactment was almost exclusively a response to the behaviour of those teams' fans.

3.38 This is view is supported by official figures which show that charges brought under the Act have primarily focused on behaviour associated with supporters of Rangers and Celtic. Over half of all OBFTC charges in 2012/13 and in 2013/14 were against supporters of these two clubs (57% in 12/13 down to 51% in 14/15). (Skivington and Mckenna, 2014, p. 6) - though Celtic fans also represent a high proportion of 'affiliated[55]' victims as well, with 44% of all victims being affiliated to Celtic. Clearly, however this concentration of charges is partially accounted for by the much larger numbers of supporters following these clubs, and historical figures would suggest that the concentration of charges associated with these two clubs is not new to the Act. For instance under the Act, Celtic and Ibrox stadia accounted for 21% and 16% of charges respectively (ibid, p. 11). However, charges at football stadia before the Act in 2011-12 under section 74 charges (religious hate crime), whilst fewer number, were proportionately even more focussed on these two locations (both 22% of stadia charges - see Goulding and Cavanagh, 2012, p. 12).

3.39 The focus on behaviours most commonly associated with Rangers and Celtic is also reflected in the fact the majority of s. 1 charges primarily related to either speech or singing, though there was also a notable decline in the extent to which these behaviours underpinned s. 1 charges between 2012-13 and 2013-14. In 2012-13 offensive speech and singing were present in 137(51%) and 112 (42%) respectively[56], of the 268 charges made (Skivington and Mckenna, 2014, p. 8). In 2013-14 this had declined to 72 for speech (35%) and 75 for singing (37%) of the 203 charges made (OBFTC report p. 8). The majority of s. 1 charges also fell under those aspects of the legislation most synonymous with issues around tackling sectarianism, with 56% of charges in 2012-13, and 51% in 2013-14 clearly focussed on hate crimes relating either to religion[57] (40% & 30% respectively), or crimes relating to support for terrorist groups, or celebrating loss of life (17% & 28%) (Skivington and Mckenna, 2014, p. 7).

3.40 Consistent with perceptions about the impact of the Act, a number of police respondents were of the view that arrest figures on match days had not risen since its introduction, though some felt that more arrests were leading to formal charges. One senior officer, conversely, was of the view that under the Act initially, in particular with the additional police resources provided by FoCUS, levels of arrests had gone up, until the point where fans started to change their behaviour:

So to begin with they [FoCUS] helped us out, we were getting two or three arrests more than we would have done… singing came down (Senior Police Officer)

3.41 The fiscals also felt that the Crown and the police were liaising well under the new Act, and that as a result there were more successful prosecutions. However, a difficulty of judging the effectiveness of the legislation in terms of successful prosecutions is that there is no precursor legislation, for which published statistics are compiled, that we can use to readily compare with the subsequent performance of s. 1 charges. Precursor charges under breach of the peace and section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 (offences aggravated by religious prejudice) cover a much wider set of behaviours and contexts than the particular challenges of football-related offending. However, a tentative comparison can be made if we examine figures compiled by the Football Banning Order Authority (now located alongside FoCUS).

3.42 The figures detailed here are submitted by police divisions to the Football Banning Authority and relate to the main charges against individuals inside stadia, but also charges identified in wider police divisional areas that were assessed as being related to a football fixture (e.g. an incidence of disorder in a public street or in a pub between football supporters). Though rigorously collected and compiled, these figures are not directly comparable to official statistics in so far as they are charges (not just concluded cases or convictions), whilst offences are mostly coded using police offence categories (breach of the peace, police assault) rather than describing what final charges are made under which particular piece of legislation. The key exception to this is that all s. 1 charges made under the OBFTC Act are precisely noted. As well as s.1 offences, the figures cover breach of the peace, culpable and reckless conduct (typically flares or smoke bombs covered under s. 20 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995), or any other type of offence that was linked to a football match, including the various types of legislated hate crime[58]. The value in these figures is that prior to 2013-14, the range of behaviours that may be viewed as 'sectarian' and which are now heavily targeted by s.1 of the Act, were coded as 'sectarian' or 'racial[59]' by the Football Banning Authority. This gives us some insight into how effective the criminal justice system was at tackling sectarian offences at football both pre and immediately post the Act.

3.43 For the purposes of the evaluation we had a limited sub-set of data available to compare arrest figures in three, now historic, Scottish police force areas (Strathclyde, Central and Tayside) with more recent figures for the same 'legacy' areas since the introduction of the 2012 Act. Figures were used for three seasons prior to the problematic 2010-11 season and for approximately[60] one and half seasons since the introduction of the Act in March 2012.

3.44 The figures in Table 3.7 below should not be read as providing a directly comparable, portrait of how the police and the criminal justice system dealt with sectarian behaviour pre and post the Act. Both the legislative framework and the policing context are significantly different between these two time periods, so precise comparisons would be erroneous. Moreover, these figures only relate to three 'legacy' police force area. Nevertheless in 'broad brush' terms the figures in Table 3.7 are useful in tentatively indicating a number of patterns of interest:

  • The immediate post-Act period in these areas is associated with an overall increase in the number of charges brought against football supporters, though official figures show that the number of charges brought under s.1 has subsequently declined significantly (Skivington and Mckenna 2014)
  • In spite of the initial increase in the number of charges, the proportion of all concluded cases resulting in a conviction remains unchanged.
  • The 2012-13 figures in Table 3.7 do show a remarkably quick adoption of the legislation in these areas in terms of the proportion of charges brought under the new legislation in these first fifteen months rather than the older provisions (104 concluded cases or 61% of the total). In particular s.1 was used for the majority of 'sectarian' or racial charges within only 4 of the 36 successful convictions being secured under old powers.

Table 3.7 Football-related charges, convictions and banning orders in three areas, pre and post the Act

Case progress and outcome Football-related charges in
Strathclyde, Tayside and Fife,
September 2006 to May 2009
(33 months)
Football-related charges in
Strathclyde, Tayside and Fife,
March 2012 to May 2013
(15 months)
Cases committed to trial where an outcome is noted 222 171 (107 cases concluded under the s. 1 of OBFTC Act)
Cases resulting in a fine, conviction, procurator fiscal fine or admonished 172 (77%) 132 (77%)
Of which…number of convictions etc. that relate to a marked sectarian1 or racial charge 81 36 (equivalent to 79 charges over 33 months)
% marked sectarian or racial charges resulting in no conviction etc.2 54% 26%
% of marked sectarian or racial convictions leading to a Football Banning Order 11% 55%

1 It is important to note that the marking of offences as 'sectarian' is a police practice which is not reflected in the actual wording of the Act (or under precursor legislation) under which one would instead be prosecuted for a religiously or racially aggravated offence, for other hate crimes, or for supporting terrorism or celebrating loss of life.

2 Typically these case outcomes were marked either as 'no proceedings', 'not guilty' or 'not proven'

  • However, whilst s. 1 is readily adopted, the actual number of charges brought for sectarian or racial charges (whether brought under new or old legislation) does not appear to increase in the immediate post- Act period in these three areas.
  • Importantly, where charges are brought, the proportion of marked 'sectarian' and racial charges resulting in a successful conviction increases in the immediate post-Act period, with the proportion of such cases failing to lead to a conviction more than halving between the pre and post-Act period. Whether this reflects the greater ease with which the Act allows convictions to be secured, or is rather due to greater police and prosecutor awareness and resources being focused on match day offensiveness and disorder, or both, is at present unclear.
  • Finally, where a successful conviction is secured for a 'sectarian' or racial charge, a much higher proportion of such cases successfully result in the imposition of a football banning order.

3.45 The figures for 'sectarian' and 'racial' offences need to be treated with a great deal of caution for two further reasons. First, clearly what behaviours and songs constitute a sectarian or racist offence is highly contentious and disputed. Second, cases historically have often not been marked as sectarian or racist even where the evidence demonstrates that such a marking would be appropriate (see Hamilton-Smith et. al., 2011). It is not yet clear whether charges brought since the introduction of the 2012 Act are subject to similar recording issues. Nevertheless some confidence in the indicative usefulness of these figures can be found in comparing these figures with published official data. Scottish Government figures for s. 1 of the Act in the twelve months between April 2012 and March 2013, indicate 25% of s. 1 charges nationally which were proceeded with resulted in no conviction (Scottish Government 2014a, p. 81). In comparison our data for these three areas between March 2012 and May 2013, albeit including cases which are not proceeded with, provides a figure of 26% of cases resulting in no conviction.

3.46 In spite of this apparent increase in successful prosecutions, there were also a number of concerns commonly raised by police and club respondents. These did not relate to the principles or content of the legislation, but to how it was being interpreted and enforced. Concerns focused on a number of inter-related issues, and mostly related to enforcement actions taken against Rangers and Celtic fans:

  • It was claimed by some police and club respondents that because a significant proportion of quite moderate fans disagreed with attempts to criminalise certain borderline songs, large numbers of fans could still be found singing these. Consequently it was perceived by some police, fan and club respondents that charges were often brought quite arbitrarily against one or two random individuals within a much larger crowd, on the basis of them being most readily identifiable as singing the song (and thus being most likely to be subject to a successful prosecution). Fan and club respondents in particular felt that younger fans were disproportionately targeted because they lacked the 'nous' to hide their identity.
  • The initial approach taken by some senior officers to charging and arresting individuals was seen as especially contentious. First, the approach to evidence gathering, in particular by FoCUS officers, was seen by some fans, as well as by a few police officers, as underhand, with officers recording crowd behaviour from a considerable distance with hand-held cameras. This rendered officers comparatively invisible to those subject to this form of surveillance. Second, rather than confront and arrest individuals at games, a number of highly publicised arrests had been made, often many days later, and on occasion through morning arrests at individuals' homes or on a Friday (resulting in custody over the weekend).
  • Even when they were clearly visible, fans and some police officers alike felt that this represented a 'disengaged' style of policing that missed the opportunity to positively influence fan behaviour, and to ward off misbehaviour, through more direct engagement (see the discussion below).
  • In the view of some police, club and fan respondents the use of the legislation was too focused on some borderline - and highly disputed -songs rather than on the more obviously offensive songs and on more violent behaviour both within and outside the stadia. The exception was the use of flares, which was seen by police and club officials alike as a recent problem that deserved prioritisation.

3.47 These concerns were by no means shared by all respondents. For instance, some police officers were adamant that fans were not generally targeted at random, though this difference of view may reflect different practices at different stadia or at different fixtures. Complaints (predominantly from fans) about delays in arresting individuals also conflicted with well-established best practice of not 'diving into' the crowd to arrest individuals during a match (for risk of sparking disorder). However, in these instances some police respondents recognized that arresting individuals at the interval or at the end of the match was nevertheless preferable to a more delayed response.

3.48 Available data also does not entirely support the concerns of some respondents regarding a focus on more 'borderline' songs. Whilst there had been a small number of high profile cases, an examination of anonymised Crown Office case data showed very few s. 1 cases where an offence was proceeded with purely on the basis of some of these disputed songs; rather, most incidents involved additional actions or forms of offensiveness that were much less ambiguous. Conversely, Crown Office statistics do provide some support for the contention that young fans are being particularly affected by the legislation. Under the Act in 2012/13 35.8% (n=96) of accused individuals were 20 or under (for all types offence under s. 1) with a large majority (n=197 or over 74%) being under 30 (Goulding and Cavanagh, 2013, p. 9). By 2013-14 this had risen to 46% (n=95) of all accused being under 20, though it must be noted that this proportionate increase must be seen against a decline in charges overall, and in particular a decline in charges against older fans.[61] (Skivington and Mckenna 2014, p. 4). In comparison if we look at the age profile of accused charged under section 74 offences in the same year, only 14% of accused are under 20 (Mckenna and Skivington 2014, p. 11).

3.49 However, again, other common elements of fan complaints from those who perceived the Act as 'Draconian' are not supported in official statistics. Crown Office statistics, notably, do not support accounts of the Act involving jail sentences being commonly imposed upon convicted fans. Only two such disposals were noted in 2012/13 under the Act, with a further two such disposals in 2013/14 (Skivington and Mckenna 2014, p. 15). Data from the Football Banning Authority presents a similar picture, with only three custodial sentences associated with s. 1 charges in their 2013-14 year, of which one of these three charges related to religious offensiveness, the other two pertaining to violent conduct. The same data shows that out of 146 convictions in 2013-14 where a disposal is noted (including charges made under breach of the peace), only 7% (n=11) resulted in a custodial sentence, nearly all for acts of violence.

3.50 The latest published figures for 2013-14 reveal a decline in the success of charges progressed under the Act. By point of comparison, in 2013-14, in total there were 16,252 people proceeded against for breach of the peace, of which 16% (2,529 charges), resulted in a not guilty verdict or an equivalent disposal (e.g. not proven) (Scottish Government 2014a, table 2a, page 31). Under s. 1 of the Act in 2013-14 there were 154 people proceeded against in court, of which 74 charges (48% of the total) resulted in a not guilty verdict (ibid, p. 81). This represents an appreciable deterioration on 2012-13, when of the 91 people proceeded against for section 1, only 25 resulted in not guilty verdicts (27% of the total).

3.51 There are a number of competing explanations for this sudden decline in successful prosecutions:

  • The Act, after initial clear cut cases, may now be attempting to address more difficult, or disputed cases, for instance charges where there is no identifiable victim. Such cases have risen markedly under s. 1 from 48% in 2012/13 to 58% of all charges in 2013/14 (Skivington and Mckenna 2014, p. 14). When looking at the sub-set of charges relating to offensiveness on the basis of religion, only 33% of religious hate crime charges prior to the Act made under section 74 had no identifiable victim, whilst this has risen to 78% of similar charges made under s. 1 of the Act (COPFS data). This rises in turn to 85% of all such charges relating to behavior in stadia (Goulding and Cavanagh, 2012- p. 14).
  • The Act has also been used to address more cases where the offensive behavior involves alleged support for terrorist organisations or a celebration of loss of life. These cases include some of the most legally contested cases and account for an increasing proportion of section 1 charges (17% in 2012/13 rising to 28% in 2013/14) (Skivington and Mckenna 2014, p. 8).
  • They may be issues more generally with managing football-related charges that is associated with these conviction figures rather than anything to specifically with the Act itself. For instance delays in getting cases to court may be leading to more cases being unresolved.

3.52 On this last point, whilst there are no published figures to help explore these issues, Football Banning Order Authority figures, again, provide some useful insight, as the cases contained on the Authority's database are updated on a daily basis using access to electronic court records. The evaluation was able to look at figures for the whole of Scotland for 2013-14 'football year' (i.e. tracking the football season, and running from approximately July to June). Again this database contains both s. 1, breach of the peace and other similar football-related offences. In this period there were 323 charges, of which 218 (67%) had been resolved (as of approximately the 1st March 2015 when we accessed the data). Of the resolved cases, 32% had resulted in no conviction (i.e. an outcome of 'not guilty', 'not proven' etc.), some way lower than the 48% reported in the published figures for s. 1 cases only for 2013/14 (Scottish Government 2014a, Annex E, p. 81). However, if unresolved cases in the Authority's database are included, 54% of all prosecutions had either failed or were unresolved in the 2013-14 'football year'. As a proportion of the unresolved (or 'pending') cases were considered likely by the Football Banning Authority to have actually been resolved in terms of the case being dropped but without the conclusive date being added to the electronic court record, this may account for the difference between the two 'no conviction' figures.

3.53 As shown in table 3.8, when we compare, exclusively, football-related breach of the peace and s. 1 offences, again using Authority data for the 2013-14 'football year', it becomes apparent that this level of performance, in terms of securing convictions, is not particular to the Act, but is in fact common to other football-related charges, with broadly similar levels of charges resulting in no conviction or being incomplete.

Table 3.8: Comparing case progress and disposal for football-related offences charged under s. 1 OBFTC and Breach of the Peace
(source: Football Banning Authority, 2013-14)

s.1 OBFTC - disposals No. Percent1 Breach of the Peace (BOP) No. Percent
Conviction 73 48% Conviction 49 45%
No conviction 36 24% No Conviction 22 20%
Case pending 43 28% Case pending 39 35%
Total 152 Total 110
Average days elapsed from date of offcen to disposal (or to 1st March 2015 if case pending)
All cases2 274 days (mean) 293 days (median)
With conviction
S. OBFTC 216 days (mean) BOP 196 days (mean)
No conviction
S. OBFTC 200 days (mean) BOP 190 days (mean)


1 These percentages relate to all cases, pending and completed, and therefore are not equivalent to an official 'conviction rate' which measures the percentage of completed cases resulting in a conviction.

2 This estimate relates to all football-related charges (not just s. 1 and BOP charges) with a usable date record.

3.54 Table 3.8 also includes a sub-set of cases which were either clearly shown as incomplete (marked 'pending') or where the case had been completed and a trial date was available. This enabled us to roughly estimate the time elapsed between the date of offence and any subsequent case disposal. This entailed removing 55 cases where date information was missing. For the 268 remaining cases, we worked out the time elapsed (in days)[62].

3.55 When we look at the time taken from offence date to sentencing, it becomes clear that cases under s. 1 are taking slightly longer than cases under breach of the peace to reach some form of conclusion, whilst cases under both types of offences are actually taking, on average, substantial lengths of time to conclude. Whilst, it is difficult to judge these timescales in terms of reasonableness, in the absence of published figures for similar types of offences in Scotland prior to the Act, even a very cautious examination of what published figures are available on trial lengths in other jurisdictions would suggest that these cases are taking a comparatively long time[63].

3.56 Thus one possible explanation for the drop in the official 2013/14 conviction rate for charges brought under s.1 is that the figures might partially reflect issues with a backlog of cases. Whether these timesacles relate to capacity issues with the police, the Crown Office, or the Court Service, or in fact are normal and to be expected for these types of charges, we are unable to say. Moreover, whether these timescales are likely to be meaningful in terms of impeding the effectiveness of the Act is difficult to assess based on current evidence. Whilst classical sentencing theory (Beccaria 1963) would assert that delays in sentencing might reduce the deterrent impact of a particular penalty, academic studies have failed to definitively establish this (e.g. Clark 1988).

3.57 What cannot be discounted is that slow case progress is likely to impact negatively on suspects, as punishment can often be viewed as starting from the point of arrest not from the point of sentence (Feely 1977)[64]. As will become evident below, in this study lengthy case times added to some supporters' sense of unfairness, as charged supporters were perceived to be left with a potential conviction hanging over them for a long period. Moreover, many accused faced stringent bail conditions in the meantime. For instance, whilst in the 2013-14 Football Banning Authority dataset, some 57 convicted fans had football banning orders imposed on them post-conviction (38% of those convicted), 65 fans whose cases were either pending, or whose case ended up with 'no conviction', had bail conditions that included a football banning order or equivalent, or in some instances had conditions that significantly exceeded those typical to football banning orders. This included 40 (58%) of the 69 'no conviction' cases across all charge types. The imposition of such conditions had caused controversy in some s.1 cases[65].

The enforcement of the Act

3.58 To understand what the statistics tell us about the Act's use, the evaluation asked question of supporters and officials to gauge their experiences and perspectives on how the Act was being implemented. It should be remembered that the data in this section, as it relates to supporters, was taken from qualitative interviews and focus groups. As was discussed in the methods chapter, the focus groups were intended to supplement the survey, and whilst some of these involved fans who were supportive of the aims of the Act, others attracted fans who were opposed to all, or some aspects of the legislation. More generally, the focus groups attracted fans who were - at the very least - interested in, and therefore to some extent critically engaged with, many of the issues raised by the Act.

3.59 The early stages of the Act's implementation was characterised by many supporters and officials alike as involving a somewhat 'intensive' policing approach, perhaps unsurprising given the level of political and media coverage in the year preceding its introduction:

Yeah, it just came in and it just came in like a runaway train (Football Intelligence Officer)

it's about a shock and awe, front page of the newspapers, and making sure that people are challenged (Club security official)

3.60 Though it was also acknowledged that much of the momentum in terms of police and criminal justice responses actually pre-dated the Act with the establishment of FoCUS and Football liaison prosecutors in the previous year:

FoCUS played that part at the time, there was a real political imperative, they were being pushed quite aggressively, in a positive sense I suppose, right across the country.' (Senior Police Officer)

3.61 Although supporters of different clubs offered varied accounts of experiences of policing and stewarding, there was a general consensus that security visibly increased at many of the clubs when the Act came into force, most notably at Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, and Hibs (UB & Student focus group). Interestingly, despite the fact that the majority of focus group participants perceived the Act to be targeting Celtic and Rangers supporters in particular, the experiences of different types of fans converged greatly. For example, at one of the Celtic focus groups much discussion centred on the levels of policing within Celtic Park at specific parts of the stadium.

One participant was surprised at how different her experience was from the rest of the group:

I've learned a lot because I've got a different experience from all of you, I travel independently, sit in an area of the ground that must be very, very boring, nothing ever happens! Nothing, no-one gets talked to, no-one gets lifted! (Fan Focus Group 2)

3.62 Similarly, fans of other clubs spoke of vastly different experiences depending on what part of the 'home' stadium they were located in. Members of a supporters group with predominantly young fans described high levels of surveillance:

Our section at XXXX .. regularly we have two police with cameras in the main stand looking on our section, we will have two police with cameras at the back of our section looking down, and we will have another police with camera on the other side of the stand next to the away fans, pointing back across to us, just so they don't miss any angle' (Fan Focus Group 4)

3.63 This was in stark contrast to the other participants who described rarely seeing much of a police presence in their stand and were never aware of being filmed during matches. Similar patterns emerged from other focus groups, including those constituted by supporters of teams other than Rangers and Celtic. Virtually all fans agreed that they were policed in a much more intensive manner when part of the away support.

it's the three different searches on the way into the ground, it's the getting off your bus and you've got police either side of you standing with video recorders filming every single person as they come of the bus.. in the game it's the same.. (Fan Focus Group 4)

3.64 This notion that particular 'types' of fans (as opposed to fans of particular clubs) are treated differently was supported by the police interviewed, who described a risk-based approach to policing within stadia:

That's just the way the police work you know, we target the hotspot areas and that's part of a football stadium as well is targeting the right areas (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.65 Unsurprisingly, it was perceived that the 'risk' groups involved young supporters, especially those who could be classed as 'ultras'. It was felt that some 'ultra' members gravitate towards risk (Police Scotland X2)

Interviewer - The singing section I mean have you...developed intelligence on them almost akin to being a risk group or...?

Police officer - Yeah I mean they are a risk group […]There are different levels of risk and you've got...normal supporters, maybe a level one, you've got level two, level three, and maybe the high risk level four so everybody fits into that group at some point. You know they all fit into it but um...we can see that some of the singing sections are now merging with the higher risk. (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.66 This categorisation of young supporters and 'singing sections' as risk groups, whilst potentially appropriate on occasions, also seemed commonplace and potentially problematic, in particular when sections of supporters, who whilst maybe having the potential to be offensive, were clearly not associated with more violent disorder, came to draw on the scarce police assets and resources normally reserved for violent risk groups.

3.67 Some police representatives interviewed acknowledged that the early 'intensive' approach to policing the Act may have backfired somewhat, causing tension between police and groups of supporters (Football Intelligence Officers X 2, middle ranking Police Officer). One cause of tension was the reported increase in post-match arrests, often days or even weeks after the alleged offence. This was driven not by the Act per se, but by the increased use of cameras to provide evidence of offensive behaviours. Although it appeared that some fan groups may have been exaggerating the prevalence of these 'knock at the door' arrests to strengthen their arguments against the legislation, the use of these tactics were nevertheless frequently raised by fans in focus groups as an illustration of the 'Draconian' enforcement of the Act (Fan Focus Groups 1, 2, 3, 4 & 7).

3.68 Another source of tension was that individuals arrested at games were perceived to be chosen somewhat arbitrarily. A common theme from the supporters' focus groups was the issue of hundreds or thousands of supporters singing the same song yet police arresting only a small number of people. Of course, police representatives spoke of the impracticality of arresting large numbers of people, and as noted earlier the supposed target of the Act is those who would be considered 'ringleaders'. However, most supporters felt that the police and stewards did not seem to be targeting 'ringleaders' and in fact were pursuing those who were easy to 'pin down' on camera.

it seems to be a case of well instead of actually policing the situation we are just going to let them do what they want and then we are going to drag a couple of them out of their beds at four o'clock on a Sunday morning and drag them into court [….] You are more likely to change your behaviour, change what you sing in a ground, if there are four of five police officers round about you, in their full uniform, than you are if there's some wee, snivelling b****d with a camera behind you. (Fan Focus Group 7)

3.69 An even greater issue for many supporters was a concern about the disproportionate targeting of young fans. Some older supporters recounted singing songs or behaving in a particular way as teenagers that could nowadays result in sanctions under the Act. For many, it was considered part of being a young supporter, especially a young male supporter, as notions of masculinity were emphasised regularly. Learning which behaviours were acceptable and which were not was regarded as an important part of growing up:

I mean, being 15 years old, I remember singing the songs and giving it all the, the lyrics, just to antagonise the Celtic fans. And I realised pretty soon after that, probably two years after that, probably about 17 before I started actually thinking about these things and realised couldn't behave, you wouldn't behave like that outside and being in a football ground didn't mean it was suddenly acceptable. (Fan Focus Group 6)

3.70 A key part of this perceived 'learning' process was considered to be self-policing amongst support, some of whom would regularly intervene to reprimand younger fans for unacceptable behaviours or language. Self-policing was emphasised by various fans as the most effective way to rid football of particularly offensive behaviours, more effective than legislation in this respect.

Like I said, it is fading away. If you heard FTP[66] back then, you'd get hundreds, thousands of folk joining in. Last week, you'd maybe get ten. And they were all blootered (Fan interview)

I don't think young guys should be jailed for being nothing more than a ned, that's all they are. When you hear it at the football you normally just hear it once, because you normally see a reaction from the crowd saying 'that's no' allowed' (Fan Focus Group 2)

3.71 Supporters spoke of a sense of unfairness at what was perceived as the 'criminalisation' of young football fans, and suggested that they were simply seen as 'easy targets' for police and stewards. One older supporter who attends all matches, home and away, described an occasion in which he challenged police for what he considered to be random and disproportionate targeting of young fans:

you know Tynecastle when you come up the steps you come under the stand and you're walking out and it's just a mass of bodies. And almost everybody to a man was singing XXXX, everybody including myself. And there was two police officers next to me. And I'll be honest with you, I was deliberately singing a bit louder, looking for what might be a reaction because I know the trouble they've had up in the other section for singing that song. But these two officers tried to squeeze past me and I could see that their target was about three or four youngsters that were holding up an Irish tricolour. I could see that that was their target and I blocked them deliberately. And I eventually said to them, "Do you guys have a problem with that flag?" and the guy said "No" and I said "you seem to be because it looks as though you're engineering your way across there". And he said "No, it's the song they're singing". I said "But I'm singing the song. Everybody is singing the song." What I'm trying to say with this is those young lads were an easy target (Fan Focus Group 1)

3.72 Even fans that were supportive of the legislation in principle voiced concerns that young people are being targeted for behaviours that were at least tacitly tolerated for many years, and as such they have grown up considering these as 'normal':

that's where they missed out with the legislation you know it was 'this is not acceptable and we are cracking down on it' and it's suddenly us and them…. there's a lot of them at 16, 17, 18 years of age, and quite frankly are probably, poorly educated, you know, their mothers and fathers have sang the song, they've been at the football since they were a young kid and they've heard that, and that's where the challenge goes in, but that challenge doesn't need to be as Draconian…(Fan interview)

3.73 Others echoed this unfair targeting of young football fans that long preceded them and originated well outside the confines of football:

The way people think, these opposing fans and their political identities and where they come from are very much ingrained within the family. And I think that's where the Bill [Act] falters, because it's very much taking these people who have grown up with this ideology and its ingrained in them completely, that's what they've grown up to do, they don't see anything wrong with it, and you are trapping them, you are punishing them for the way they have been brought up, and it aint necessarily their fault. Need a much broader approach, broader education. Why these things are bad, why it's not acceptable. You are setting people to fail with this, because you are just saying, you are letting people live the way they want until they go to a football stadium then they sing these songs and you are arrest them for it (Focus Group 6)

3.74 The consequences of being prosecuted under the Act were widely discussed. Some high-profile cases which were well known due to high levels of media coverage were supplemented with stories about young people known to the participants. One fan talked about a friend who was 'visited' and almost charged for happening to be holding a flag that was being passed around the section. The flag was the "starry plough" and he was, as is common with flags in some fan sections, just passing it along above his head when the image was caught. (Focus Group 6) One of the more extreme examples is captured in the dialogue below:

…he was filmed at XXXX, in April 2013. And this boy has been due to appear in court 4 times. And there's 4 police officers that are...he was filmed from the trackside, on the upper tier, he's the one person that got picked out. And the 4 police officers, 4 dates and one court date the police officers didn't bother to turn up. So this is going on and on and on until December he missed a court date. And that's why he's remanded, for missing a court date. But the police failed to turn up before, his lawyer's failed to turn up before, so by January 2014 this boy is lying in a cell. It's not even been proven that he's guilty...

-he'll probably lose his job

- and that's the downside of this Act. So he's appearing on XX

February for something that happened in April 2013 - what cost? Even the justice system is letting everybody down on this. The cost for having 4 dates, for having a boy lying inside for 6 weeks. (Fan Focus Group 2)

3.75 The implications for the young person involved, including the likelihood that he would lose his job, were of concern to the majority of supporters involved in the focus groups. The perceived failure of the criminal justice system, and the fact that the young man was one picked out of a crowd for singing the same song as those around him, epitomised the disproportionate targeting of young people.

'you look at supporters that's going to affect their working lives, in terms of you've got to explain to your employer.. 'oh I've been arrested under a bill (sic) that doesn't make any sense, I can't come into work on Monday'. 'Why?'' Because I'm going to stand in court for Monday for ten minutes and then got told to b****r off' (Fan Focus Group 7)

3.76 Fans differed in their stances on whether issues with policing and stewarding would result in them eventually deciding to stop attending football matches. One supporter suggested that the treatment of football supporters, including the level of surveillance, would not be accepted in any other social activity, and spoke of the impact on enjoyment of the game:

my neighbour goes to the bingo, she gets in her car, drives over to XXX, goes to the bingo and gets home. She has a great time. I come over here and I'm like a criminal, and I've no' done anything (Fan Focus group 2)

3.77 Members of official supporters groups, particularly those which tend to attract younger and more 'hardcore' fans, reported a reduction in members because of the threat of the impact on their lives outside of football. Many fans described changing the types of games attended, such as attending home matches only as it was considered more risky to attend away games (Fan Focus group 1)

3.78 The issue of clubs not supporting their fans also came up regularly in discussions. There was a strong perception that football clubs (some in particular more than others) were happy to charge high ticket prices and reap the benefits of fans' dedication but would generally not provide support on the subject of perceived mistreatment by police and stewards.

They might as well put over the Tannoy - come in, sit down, shut up and leave after 90 minutes, thanks for your money ( Fan Focus group 3)

Well from my point of view, I love the way the Green Brigade have created an atmosphere in this ground. And I've brought customers here and they've felt that experience - they didn't watch the game, they were watching what was going on - for the right reasons. And I thought the atmosphere that was created there, the displays we've had in this ground and at cup finals, at Hampden, has been absolutely brilliant, second to none. And I just think that had we harnessed that and controlled it, and got the maximum from it, we wouldn't be having these current problems.(Celtic fan)

3.79 The concern that the legislation was 'killing the game' by having a negative effect on the atmosphere at many matches was also voiced regularly.

People like it when it goes off like that, there's no question about it. When the fact that certain Rangers-Hearts games have been quite's a big disappointment to me. You prefer it when they're lively, a bit mad. I'm thinking about the last time at the tail end of their existence in the Premiership. So it has to be acknowledged, I suppose, that people, football supporters like the tension. (Fan Focus Group 6)

Policing and stewarding football: issues of inconsistency

3.80 One of the difficulties that confronted the effective enforcement of the legislation, and frustrated many fans was the inconsistency with which fans and fan behaviour were perceived to be dealt with at different stadia. This is perhaps reflected in our survey, where respondents were consistently more negative in relation to attending away games than they were for attending games at home (see Table 4.1 and 4.2 below) Police respondents recognised this as a historic difficulty in the policing of Scottish football, in so far as different police areas and different club stewarding operations could not only approach match day policing and security differently, but they could also make quite different judgements about the particular level of risk posed by a particular fixture:

They would decide on the risk of a match but they didn't have a process for it and because there wasn't a process never mind it not being consistent it was based on what we've always done for that match - you know, why is it we've got so many officers at some places, we've got no officers at other places? (Senior Police Officer)

3.81 For fans this could lead to frustration in terms of away game experiences veering between unexpectedly 'light' and unnecessarily 'heavy' levels of policing and security. With this uncertainty, came uncertainty about what behaviours were and were not permissible at different grounds.

At XXX my bag got searched 4 times. What's happening to us is that every away game is different…But all these rules and regulations are set in place, they're discussed with our security team. But they don't communicate that to us, the fans that are travelling. (Fan Focus Group 4)

3.82 This was compounded by a perception that stewards and police officers dealt (or did not deal) with behaviour very differently, and this could lead in turn to very uncertain outcomes. If nothing else it would appear that different levels of policing at different fixtures and the different contexts surrounding offensive behaviour itself, could lead to very different outcomes. For instance, if pre-match assessments resulted in a fairly low-key approach to policing, but then the police on the day were confronted with a large number of fans singing an offensive song, the outcome could be very different from a more heavily policed match with more isolated singing:

So...we've been criticised at court as well saying obviously there's been a stand of, for example XXX supporters, at the XXX game singing this song, why have you only arrested one? Well we don't know who all these people are for a start, there's only two of us there, we can only stop and speak to one or two people at the same time. (Middle ranking police officer)

3.83 This different approach to policing was seen as frequently leading to unfair outcomes and with certain fan groups being more heavily policed than others:

I find Scotland (the national team) fans offensive with their kilts and nothing underneath it. That's what I find offensive, walking up there drunk, but they're allowed to do it and they're policed differently again, another example of difference. They're allowed to drink outside the stadium. (Fan Focus Group 1)

3.84 This perceived inconsistency of approach was particularly marked when it came to stewarding, with fans and officials noting excessively aggressive and over-assertive stewarding in some stadia, particularly since the advent of the Act, contrasting with stewards in many other areas who were perceived to be either uninterested or incapable of having a role in policing offensive behaviour:

Well I would think half the stewards wouldn't have a clue and I would say the same for the police, some of them. (Football Intelligence Officer)

…and this guy turns up and he would be screaming about whatever mistake a XXX player made. He would scream abuse at them, and I was like 'Wow, wait a minute…' And he was swearing and it was foul, and some of the stuff he would come out with just outrageous against the other side. And I was really embarrassed for my children and…

… [suggestions from other respondent that a steward might intervene]….

Nah, the stewards, nah the stewards get involved if somebody is standing. And they come up to tell him to sit down. When there is stuff like that going on, they run a bloody mile.(Fan Focus Group 5)

Stewarding /policing capacity and capability

3.85 In spite of the attention given to enforcing the Act in Scottish football stadia, aside from the added national resource of FoCUS, the approach to policing stadia has broadly continued along the lines of reducing costs by moving towards 'police free', or at least, 'police-lite' stadia, where stewards have more of a role in maintaining safety and order. This move away from a heavy police presence in favour of local enforcement strategies inevitably will give rise to the local variations in strategy outlined above. Although in no instances were stewards primarily responsible for enforcing the Act, their involvement could be critical, whether in terms of discouraging fans from misbehaving, or in reporting offensive behaviour to the police when it occurred. Although stewards did appear to be effective to some extent in certain areas, fans' perceptions of stewards as poorly paid and of low status, the perceived frequent turnover of personnel which made it difficult to 'ingrain' an appropriate knowledge of the Act, and the associated shortage of experienced stewards, were regarded as combining to produce very uneven approaches. Standards of stewarding were seen to veer between the over-assertive to stewards who either lacked the required knowledge, or interest, to help enforce the Act. These problems were extensively reported by police officers and fans alike.

Interviewer: So, are the stewards essentially not getting on board in terms of enforcing the legislation?

Respondent: Far from it. Would you? Would you if you were Monday to Friday in your profession and on Saturdays you decide you want to be a steward and are you going to get yourself actively involved in a court case? (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.86 Although police officers were subject, much more consistently, to higher levels of training, and had access to extensive guidance and support, the changes towards fewer police officers in stadia worked against having a large pool of officers of officers experienced in policing football. As one officer responsible for training noted:

I haven't been able to do enough training nationally to satisfy myself that the officers...all of the officers that turn up at football are sufficiently trained, that's partly because you can't abstract them for an outrageous amount of time and also you can't get enough of them that I may train 20 officers at a training course one day and then they might be at a football match...six months away. In which case some of the training that they've had has been lost! (middle ranking Police Officer)

3.87 With fewer experienced officers in the stadia and a greater reliance on stewards, fans perceived policing to be more disengaged and distant, typically finding them in situations of higher risk, standing in section corners or on the touchline with cameras.

Fan 1 - I think the problem with the coppers is they have no leeway. They cannae make decisions themselves in the ground, they cannae say to yous two 'behave yourself, you can't sing that'

Interviewer- that's a good point because some fans refer back to days of a bit more discretion

Fan 2 - common sense

Interviewer - have you noticed a change in that?

Fan 2 - if you're given a camera by your boss to go and film somebody you're no just going to keep it in your pocket, you're going to stand there and film and we think that's where the problem's coming from, they're looking for it

Interviewer - do they actually come up and talk to you at all?

Fan 3 no, if the police come anywhere near you at all during the game you're getting arrested, simple as that. They'll never come anywhere near you, they'll keep their distance and it'll be filming the whole time. (Fan Focus Group 4)

3.88 Club security officials, some fans and some experienced police officers themselves stated a preference for less reliance on stewarding and a more engaged style of policing. This did not in some respondents' minds imply a requirement for more police; rather a smaller, more stable cadre, of officers with a good knowledge of a particular fan group, the advantage being that experienced officers could spot known individuals who were likely to cause trouble, and could ward off trouble simply by being closer to the fan group:

if they see us (police officers) and we're standing in front of them they won't sing the song. I know for a fact that they've sung the song in front of local officers, and if you're at (other named clubs) they'll sing the songs with impunity. (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.89 But this more proactive and intelligence-led style of policing was also dependent on a good degree of trust and communication between police officers and fan groups, and a number of police officers and club security officials alike believed that the fans' sense of grievance in relation to the legislation and its enforcement had damaged these relationships:

Is that worth criminalising that person for? And that is something you have to be careful with because of course the knock-on effect, the bigger picture of that is that you start to have a wedge being driven between policing and football fans and the danger really is wider than just the vocal group I mentioned earlier on. The danger is the wider support, who if they sense, like any group of people, if they sense unfairness or perceive a victimisation they will start to change their view on policing as well. (Club security official)

It's [the implementation of the Act] probably eradicated any sort of rapport or possible rapport between supporters of Celtic, Rangers and the police, which I think for the safe, for making the game as safe as it can be you need some... call it a working relationship is the best term, the police need to know where they stand with the supporters and the supporters need to know where they stand with the police. (Fan Focus Group 7)

3.90 Caution needs to be exercised however in attributing these tensions solely to the introduction of the Act, as whilst some respondents' did make a link between more confrontational policing and the Act, how the Act was policed was a tactical choice, not an inevitability, and some senior officers advocated very different approaches:

If I could sit Celtic fans next to XXX fans… you go to Murrayfield, and I know it's a different culture, and perhaps it's a different background and society… but I think we can move that bit closer to Murrayfield than we actually have, by segregating them and giving them titles, and marching them off for doing this, and watching them, and proverbial militias and big vans and mobile supports and public order unit.. it's nonsense we don't have that scale of challenges, you might have for Celtic-Rangers [….] but I think sometimes we just overplay it, and that doesn't help, it just aggravates the situation (Senior Police Officer)

3.91 Finally, even where police-free football was seen to be working well, this had been achieved within the context of a sustained investment in capable, more proactive, intelligence-led policing. In many areas this level of investment was not apparent: for instance football intelligence officers were restricted to a very part-time administrative role that rarely allowed them to attend matches or develop intelligence on risk groups. As a consequence judging levels of risk and planning effectively for different fixtures became more problematic.

A lot of the football intelligence officers aren't getting out to actually see who (the risk groups) are, so...people can get around that by saying they're just a bunch of wee boys that don't really get involved in anything but when you actually go and deal with them they're not a bunch of wee boys. (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.92 Weak intelligence was also associated with difficulties in effectively resourcing the enforcement of football banning orders. As bans post-conviction did not usually come with any direct measures to ensure compliance (such as some sort of 'sign-on' condition during matches), the only means of ensuring compliance (short of spotting the banned individuals in a crowd of thousands) was good intelligence on their intention to attend and their likely whereabouts.

Policing violence

3.93 Poor police-fan relationships and an under-investment in intelligence were seen as particularly problematic because regardless of their support for the legislation there was a consistent view amongst police officers from the Central belt that more traditional 'risk groups' had been increasingly active over the 2012-2014 period in terms of engaging in pre-arranged fighting. Although difficult to support with statistical evidence (because many fights remain formally undetected), these accounts contrast sharply with accounts given in the previous football banning order evaluation back in 2010-11 when police officers were unanimously of the view that such risk group activity was at a low level (Hamilton-Smith, 2011). Both large and small teams were now identified as having active risk groups, with in some instances younger fans 'graduating' towards membership of risk groups that had previously been the preserve of older fans.

The problems before were less, I think they've got worse now almost it's harking back to the 70s in terms of the [team X] risk, the risk were calling themselves ultras, before just tended to be engaged in pyrotechnics, displays, banners, now crossing over to the risk side of things, fighting…(Football Intelligence Officer)

3.94 Some police respondents felt that both the police and the media were too preoccupied with in-stadia issues at the cost of giving due priority to this violence, which predominantly occurred well away from the game and the stadia:

The mass fighting before the XXX game didn't make it into the paper, the media focus on what happens in the ground. (Football Intelligence Officer)

the legislation's not impacting on them, in fact I see them as more active towards each other. That isn't impacting on them because they, the risk groups, I can only really speak for XXXX because a lot of …[mentions three different 'ultra groups'] they're the ones that are getting themselves caught, so the older risk groups don't engage in sectarian singing because the way they see it is, I'm not going to get caught for that." (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.95 Three Football Intelligence Officers alluded to occasions when, due to a lack of prior intelligence being provided by officers responsible for visiting clubs, they had been confronted with unexpected incidents of disorder. As one officer noted, an under-investment in intelligence could be self-perpetuating, because it could effectively lead to officers refusing to recognise that they had a problem in the absence of any evidence (thus mitigating the need for any greater policing attention). This point was vividly demonstrated in one interview when the interviewer was shown a publicly available online video, filmed by a local resident from their flat window:

XXXX and XXXX, two teams who have Football Intelligence Officers but neither club has a risk group….Allegedly….

[sound of video footage in background which shows fans from these two teams fighting each other in a residential street]

Explain to me, what is this? If you're in your house, or if you've got young children and that's happening outside your door? Right, watch this. Bof! That kid is completely out! Now he's not moving. [young white, male lies unconscious in the middle of a road…..]Now I'm sorry, somebody singing a song in a stadium […..]is not at the same level as that … (Football Intelligence Officer)

3.96 The quality and investment in intelligence assets clearly varied across Police divisional areas however, with some determining to maintain a strong investment (Senior Police Officer), whilst other areas felt that they had benefited from the training resources provided by FoCUS which had allowed them to build up a more skilled set of officers available to help with football operations (Football Intelligence Officers X2).

Refinements and innovations

3.97 Although the Act faced a number of challenges, in particular in terms of the context in which it was being enforced, a number of refinements and innovations had the potential to ameliorate some of these issues. Principally, many of the aspects of enforcement that had disgruntled some fans, and which were particularly associated with FoCUS, such as the over-use of cameras and frequent instances of retrospective arrests long after a game had finished had - at least in the opinion some police and security officers - become less prominent. Although FoCUS had initially suffered from being associated (fairly or otherwise) with the politics of police reform and mergers - with the imposition of a distinctly 'Strathclyde' style of policing, the Unit over time had come to be seen as a more neutral resource servicing Police Scotland as a whole. As FoCUS has developed, it has taken a more limited role in terms of actively enforcing the Act at games, preferring instead to train local officers in the use of the Act and key enforcement tactics (such the use of cameras), while attending games on a more responsive basis (e.g. at the request of local match commanders). Some respondents claimed that fans too were now less likely to notice FoCUS officers because they were less prominent in the stadia, were more likely to be perceived as just members of Police Scotland, and made more discreet, and less constant, use of camera equipment:

now our cameras are very small and discreet so people don't actually see them, obviously that took a couple of months to get that organised but now we're a wee bit more discreet when we're out there. (middle ranking Police Officer)

3.98 Aside from training other officers in camera use for evidence gathering, and training relating to the Act generally, FoCUS had also taken a strategic role in attempting to improve police capability and consistency. Indeed the very presence of FoCUS at games across the country appears to have indirectly exerted a certain scrutiny of different local policing practices, and provided some degree of pressure on local officers to police matches to a consistent standard. Other strategic roles undertaken by FoCUS included:

  • Acting as a central clearing house for national intelligence, including adding to local intelligence 'narratives' by pulling together a more national view of issues.
  • Taking on the role of developing intelligence packages around more prominent risk supporters, with the aim in some instances of seeking football banning orders.
  • Supplementing local policing capacity when it comes to undertaking more extensive or more difficult post-match inquiries, including in many instances acting as the go-between between local officers and fiscals when it came to preparing cases for court.
  • Promoting other ways of improving decision making around the implementation of the Act, notably via the establishment of a 'case markers forum' which aimed to promote shared learning and best practice amongst police officers responsible for 'marking' cases in terms of charging suspects appropriately, and submitting evidence effectively.
  • Finally FoCUS was also perceived by other officers to be changing some of its practices away from some of the tactics that had particularly incurred criticism. Notably, FoCUS had started to work more around non-stadia issues, in particular around violence away from football grounds (Football Intelligence Officers X2). It had also been active in promoting better case handling to avoid situations where suspects charged with comparatively modest offences, such as offensive singing or displays, were not unnecessarily detained over the course of a weekend:

Initially, people were getting arrested and they were getting detained in custody for singing an offensive song, got kept overnight and then taken to court the next day. We've tried to encourage local officers to release a lot of the arrests on undertakings so they're not getting kept in. (middle ranking Police Officer)

3.99 A final area of tentative improvement and refinement reported by some officials was in stewarding at Rangers and Celtic. For example, at Rangers, stewarding had been brought 'in house' allowing the club to deploy stewards more responsively to club needs than had been possible with externally-contracted stewards. A further key change was that stewarding sections were also now headed by ex-police officers, mostly of Inspector rank or above, though with each regardless having substantive experience in policing football. The employment of in house stewards was also intended to allow for a more stable core of experienced stewards to be developed. The premise behind these changes was of having fewer police officers in the stadia but a more experienced cadre of stewards, who were known to the fans, and would be better placed to proactively monitor and influence fan behaviour.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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