Fans face five-year jail term under new police powers

Hearts fan John Wilson tangles with Celtic boss Neil Lennon on the touchline at Tynecastle

Hearts fan John Wilson tangles with Celtic boss Neil Lennon on the touchline at Tynecastle

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UNRULY Edinburgh football fans can face a five-year prison sentence or an unlimited fine under enforcement powers first granted to Scottish police last year.

The legislation, introduced on March 1, came in response to calls from both police and prosecutors for new tools to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse around football matches, and threats posted on the internet or through the mail.

Two new offences were created under The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. Under the Act, police have the power to arrest fans who express hateful, threatening or otherwise offensive behaviour at and around football matches that is likely to cause public disorder. A threat of either serious harm or communications intended to stir up religious hatred, whether sent by mail or posted on the internet, is also an offence.

The powers apply to travel to and from a regulated football game, and pubs and other public places where matches are shown on television. Behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive such as spitting on another person is also classed as an offence. Expressing hatred of a group based on colour, race, nationality, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability would all be grounds for arrest.

The increased police powers were introduced in the wake of the Old Firm shame game which saw Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist and Celtic boss Neil Lennon blow up at each other on the touchline, parcel bombs being sent to key figures connected to Celtic FC and a May 2011 incident which saw a Hearts fan, John Wilson, tangle with Celtic manager Neil Lennon after running on to the pitch at Tynecastle.

Last March two Hibs fans became the first to be prosecuted under the new powers. Andrew Whitson, then 28, and Paul Swan, then 39, were both fined and received one-year banning orders for singing sectarian songs on a train.