IT’S a tactic more often used against the city’s organised crime gangs.
But Lothian and Borders Police signalled their intention to take a tough stance against football hooliganism in the Capital by staging a string of dawn raids against suspected Hibs casuals yesterday.
Eleven suspects from across the city were rounded up in a series of swoops after a convoy of police vans rolled out from Fettes HQ at 7am.
A 17-year-old boy was the youngest arrested, led into a holding cell in one van while his mother watched in tears and his father stood beside his car with the private registration plate, “HFC”.
Police chiefs launched the operation in the wake of spiralling violence involving Hibs casuals in recent months, including a running battle in Easter Road after the club’s friendly match with Sunderland in August.
It was video footage captured by officers during this incident that was used to identify the suspects, who were each arrested for taunting rival fans with racist and sectarian chants.
Police have pledged to use video cameras to record any fans singing sectarian songs before and after matches involving Hibs or Hearts, and track down those involved in these hate crimes.
Football banning orders will also be sought against each of the suspects if convicted, as well as the eight men arrested on the day of the Sunderland match.
The operation came just days before Hearts play host to Celtic at Tynecastle and was intended as a clear indication that the force will not tolerate violence and disorder at Sunday’s clash.
Officers descended on 13 addresses yesterday to detain the suspected hooligans, calling at homes in Leith, Hyvots, Pilton, Mayfield, Gyle, Lochend, Brunstane and Musselburgh.
The oldest man arrested was 44, which police believe shows the wide spread in ages involved in the city’s growing casual scene.
Trouble on the day of the Sunderland game erupted in Easter Road on August 6 following earlier fighting near the Omni Centre, which saw three people treated for serious injuries.
Superintendent Donny MacKinnon, who led yesterday’s operation, said: “There had been incidents before that game when five arrests were made, and we received intelligence about likely post-match trouble. Officers were able to keep around 25 to 30 of these alleged Hibs supporters away from the rival fans on Easter Road and three more arrests were made for violence.
“Sunderland has a multi- cultural support and some of these chants were of a racist nature while other sectarian songs were also sung.
“We couldn’t arrest all of those involved in the incident on the day, but we had no intention of not following up with further investigations. We had video footage of those involved and were able to identify several from intelligence while other images were passed to briefings for officers to identify more. A few are still to be traced, but rest assured that will continue.”
A total of 50 officers took part in the blitz, split into teams to carry out near-simultaneous raids on the addresses and execute warrants. During a briefing at Fettes, the officers were advised to prevent suspects from using their mobile phones following their arrest in case they tried to warn other targets.
A dossier had been compiled on each of the suspects, often including details on their status as a “risk supporter” who had previously come to the attention of police for football-related disorder, as well as still images taken from video footage.
The men arrested were taken to St Leonards police station, and were set to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today.
Supt MacKinnon said that the force had been monitoring an upsurge in violence involving casuals, with officers working to gather intelligence against the hardcore involved in disturbances.
He added: “We are aware of a rise in incidents involving a small number of individuals intent on using football as an excuse to take part in violence.
“Their behaviour will not be tolerated and this operation shows we will continue to pursue them weeks after any incidents actually take place.”
In May, casuals clashed in the city when around 35 Hibs fans taunted around 15 Hearts supporters at the Horseshoe Bar in Gorgie.
The attack saw fans batter the windows and doors with metal poles and a steel bollard.
Local residents said that the fight may have been a retaliation for a previous attack on the Hibs social club in Sunnyside, near Easter Road.
Meanwhile, Hearts bosses have launched a massive security operation to protect Celtic manager Neil Lennon when he returns to Tynecastle for the first time since he was confronted by a fan there in May.
Extra stewards will be deployed around the dugouts while security staff are working with police to boost safety.
Police chiefs issued a warning in the run-up to the game, pledging that “full resources” will be used to prevent trouble inside or outside the ground.
Supt MacKinnon added: “If there is a small minority who are intent on disrupting things, there will be a robust reaction from my officers.”
A Hibs spokesman today said: “The club encourages all supporters to behave in a responsible way. If individuals are found to have broken the law then the club will take the appropriate action.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to removing bigotry from football and society and we commend the police.”