Edinburgh Derby: Flare use sparks fire fears

Smoke fills the air in the away end at Tynecastle on Sunday. The devices were set off in both ends. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Smoke fills the air in the away end at Tynecastle on Sunday. The devices were set off in both ends. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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RIVAL football fans who set off flares during Sunday’s Edinburgh derby are being hunted by police amid supporter fears the devices could spark a tragedy.

Police have confirmed a number of flares were set off in both the home and away ends at Tynecastle during Hibs’ 2-1 win.

A 25-year-old man has already been charged in connection with one incident while officers have confirmed they are chasing down other reckless flare throwers who marred the spectacle with their potentially life-threatening acts.

Fan groups are fearful their misuse could ignite a repeat of the 1985 Bradford fire tragedy, which claimed the lives of 56 supporters.

The building of new wooden grandstands was banned as a result of the Bradford disaster, however Hearts’ main stand – built in 1914 – is still mainly wood after redevelopment plans were shelved.

Hibs supporters chief Mike Riley condemned the flare throwers.

He said: “Without a doubt this latest craze of setting off flares is far, far too dangerous. I hope that the police prosecute anyone they catch.

“I can remember the Bradford fire, and the Hearts stand is a similar old wooden one. It’s absolute folly for people to be setting these off in a packed crowd.”

Hearts fans were similarly outraged at their use.

One Hearts fan who goes to every game, home or away, said: “These things give off intense heat so they could easily cause a fire. People throw them as well. If they hit you in the eye they could blind you.”

He added: “Among certain factions there’s a feeling that – because we’re the only proper derby at the moment – there needs to be some drama, some bite. And I think their use all stems from the fact there’s no longer a Rangers and Celtic derby around.”

An official Hearts spokesman also railed against their resurgence, which has been linked to hooliganism.

He said: “The vast majority of fans behaved themselves on Sunday while the minority caused some disturbances.

“In regards the lighting of flares, the club takes a dim view of such behaviour and we urge any supporters with useful information to contact the police.”

Flares and smoke bombs used by fans can be bought online for as little as £3, while South Queensferry chandlery shop Bosuns Locker charges £10 for a single handheld flare.

Shop owner Russell Aitken said flares could easily kill or injure someone if misused.

He said: “It really is pretty dangerous to be lighting a flare inside a packed football ground, let alone chucking it about the place. They are not designed for that.

“We sell flares and the like to the boating community – those with beards and pipes. We see very few football fans as they can buy them at a quarter of the price online.”

In Brazil, where the use of flares by fans is most prevalent, football club Corinthians was recently ordered to play home matches behind closed doors, after fans were accused of killing a young Bolivian supporter with a flare. The 14-year-old died after being hit in the eye in February.

Police Scotland last night further revealed three men aged 23, 21 and 18 were also charged with alleged breaches of the peace following pitch invasions towards the end of Sunday’s match.

In addition, a seat within a stand was broken and a 14-year-old boy was subsequently charged with alleged vandalism. A report will now be sent to the Children’s Reporter.