3000 Celtic fans protest ‘disproportionate’ Green Brigade policing

Three thousand football fans have rallied in Glasgow to protest what they claim are "disproportionate" measures to crack down on hate crime.

The Fans Against Criminalisation group is concerned that legislation passed by MSPs more than a year ago created problems for ordinary supporters.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act gives police and prosecutors new powers to tackle sectarian songs and abuse at and around football matches, as well as threats posted on the internet or through the mail.

The Act created two distinct offences, punishable through a range of penalties up to a maximum five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The rally was held at George Square between noon and 1.30pm on Saturday. Police had initially cautioned attendees against forming a procession, an event for which they had not secured a permit. However, after the demonstration Police Scotland said it was "delighted" by the conduct of the protesters.

Chief Superintendent Andy Bates, Divisional Commander for Greater Glasgow Division, said: "Approximately 3000 people participated in the rally at George Square today.

“There was no disorder and no arrests and I am delighted by the way in which those who took part conducted themselves.

"As always when dealing with large crowds dispersing from an event, it is inevitable that there will be some disruption to traffic.

“That said, I am pleased this was kept to a minimum and the people who took part in today's rally adhered to the pre-planned dispersal routes.

"When planning for a day like today, we have to strike a balance between protecting people's right to peaceful protest whilst ensuring that the city continues to operate with the minimum of disruption to the people who live and work here.

“I believe we achieved just that."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The vast majority of football fans are well behaved and have an excellent relationship with the police. The police are there to protect fans from the tiny minority whose behaviour spoils the game and we welcome the fact that today's demonstration has been a peaceful one."

The spokesman said the legislation was "working well", with an 87% charge rate and 83% conviction rate for those arrested. He added: "Tackling bigotry and hatred isn't just about legislation, but about wider action to help bring communities together.

"That's why the Scottish Government announced £9m over three years to support a wide range of projects across Scotland which are tackling sectarianism."

Fans Against Criminalisation — which describes itself as "an independent umbrella group comprising the Green Brigade, Celtic Trust, Celtic Supporters Association, Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs and Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs" — claims the Act has led to "heavy-handed" policing.

It follows a Glasgow demonstration held by the Green Brigade in March which fans felt was improperly policed, with some accusing the now-defunct Strathclyde Police of "harassment".

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