Scottish Cup pitch invasion could spark clampdown

Hibs fans on the crossbar after the Scottish Cup final win. Picture: Neil Hanna
Hibs fans on the crossbar after the Scottish Cup final win. Picture: Neil Hanna
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FORMER justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said controversial football legislation may need to be strengthened following the pitch invasion at the end of Saturday’s historic Scottish Cup final.

Moves are currently under way to have the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act repealed and calls have been made to scrap a ban on alcohol within stadiums.

Scotland still has an issue, Saturday could have been catastrophic. Let the SFA, let Police Scotland, do the work. I have no doubt parliament will review this but what we can’t do is go backwards in the legislation we’ve got, we’ve got to maybe go forwards, making it better.

Kenny MacAskill

But the Hibs-supporting ex-MSP for Edinburgh Eastern said the law should be retained and could be “improved”.

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Police investigations are continuing into the pitch invasion, which saw clashes between rivals fans after thousands of Hibs supporters streamed onto the Hampden turf to celebrate their 3-2 triumph.

Rangers claimed some of their staff and players were assaulted and Hibs have vowed to co-operate with the ongoing police inquiry and an independent commission which has been set up by the Scottish Football Association.

Mr MacAskill was among the crowd at Hampden on Saturday to watch Hibs lift the cup.

But he said the pitch invasion at the final whistle could have been “catastrophic”.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, he said now was not the time “to take our foot of the gas” when it came to tackling violence in the national game.

He said: “Scotland still has an issue, Saturday could have been catastrophic.

“Let the SFA, let Police Scotland, do the work. I have no doubt parliament will review this but what we can’t do is go backwards in the legislation we’ve got, we’ve got to maybe go forwards, making it better.

“I was there on Saturday, I was also at Leith Walk [for the victory parade] on Sunday.

“Leith Walk was magnificent – that’s what it should have been like.”

SNP MSP John Mason, meanwhile, has lodged a parliamentary motion calling on opponents of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act to back down.

It read: “Football can be a great opportunity for fans to let off steam but that there have to be limits as to what behaviour is acceptable; notes calls to change the law in relation to football, including repealing the ban on alcohol and relaxing the rules on offensive behaviour, and, in light of the recent situation, considers that this would not be an appropriate time to relax the law in either of these areas.”

Scottish Labour has begun moves in the Scottish Parliament to have the football legislation scrapped. Introduced in 2012 following ugly scenes at an Old Firm match, the act has proved unpopular with football supporters across the country.

But Mr MacAskill, who was justice secretary when the legislation was introduced, said it was important not to go “backwards” but to take the law “forward, making it better”.

Labour MSP James Kelly, who is leading his party’s attempt to have the legislation repealed, said: “Kenny MacAskill is wrong. The act was a mistake from the start and has created distrust between police and fans. It needs to go and that is why I will be pressing ahead with my plans to repeal the hated SNP football act.”

Other bodies are urging the football authorities to introduce “strict liability” to make clubs responsible for the actions of fans.

Dave Scott, director of anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth, said: “We’re not suggesting that strict liability replaces policing, strict liability isn’t the magic bullet but it’s a direction of travel in terms of cultural change in football.

“If you take, for example, that the events that happened on Saturday took place in a public house or nightclub, they would have to go before a licensing committee, the chances are that their licence would be taken away from them for a period of time and they would be given a series of recommendations as to how to improve their security in these situations.

“I think that you are responsible for the behaviour of the people that you sell tickets to and it tends to be the case that tickets are bought through the home club.

“This isn’t something we’re just dreaming up in a back room, this is something that is introduced across Europe, it’s a ready-made framework that we can try and impose to improve people’s match day experience in Scotland and get people coming back to matches.”

Hibs chairman Rod Petrie has condemned the scenes and said the club would “bring to book” any supporters found to have tarnished the club’s name.

Eleven arrests have been made since the end of the game, and police have warned that they are certain to make more.

Meanwhile, East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray also lodged a parliamentary motion – to congratulate Hibs on their first Scottish Cup win since 1902. It was supported by new Edinburgh Northern and Leith SNP MSP Ben Macpherson and said the parliament should “congratulate both teams on an exciting and close-fought final”.

It added that parliament should “commend what it sees as the hard work, commitment and perseverance of the players and staff in delivering the historic victory and ending the 114-year wait to lift the cup again”.

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