Police Scotland ‘too heavy handed at football games’

Police outside Celtic Park. Picture: John Devlin.
Police outside Celtic Park. Picture: John Devlin.
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There are calls for an independent review of policing at football following the repeal of a controversial law aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at matches.

Four months on from the scrapping of the law, Scottish Labour said there have been several situations where the police response has been “heavy-handed” at games.

The party wants Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to initiate a review “to ensure fans are treated fairly”.

The so-called Football Act was introduced by the majority SNP government in the last parliament in the face of united opposition from all other parties.

After coming into force in 2012, it faced criticism from legal experts and fans’ groups who claimed it was unworkable and unfairly targeted football fans.

Opposition parties defeated the Scottish Government in March by passing Labour MSP James Kelly’s Bill to scrap the law.

However, Mr Kelly has now pointed to a number of examples where he said the policing strategy at games since then has felt “over the top”.

He also highlighted a tweet from a force account which told fans: “If you don’t want police filming supporters at the game, don’t commit a crime.”

Mr Kelly said: “The Football Act was broken legislation that ended up just stoking up tensions between fans and the police. The result was aggressive and created a really poor atmosphere at games.

“Despite the repeal of the Act four months ago, the policing strategy at games can feel over the top and I have heard from numerous fans that it is ruining their match days.

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Football fans are second-class citizens to the SNP government, and that is why Labour is calling for an independent review of the way football policing is carried out.”

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “The policing of football matches is under constant review and whilst there is a general framework of how we approach them, we work with the clubs to develop a policing plan, the tactics and deployments will vary dependent on circumstances such as the nature of the match and the risk associated with it.

“As in the past, I or my colleagues will happily meet with supporters groups to discuss any concerns they may have.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of the hundreds of football matches which take place in Scotland every year pass without incident - and the vast majority of football fans in Scotland are a credit to their teams.

“Public satisfaction with policing in Scotland remains very high. If individuals are unhappy or have concerns regarding the conduct of police officers there is a clear process in place to raise those concerns.

“The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 made no provision for policing. This was, and still is, entirely a matter for Police Scotland.”