Old Firm could see a 'deluge' of hate crime complaints against fans

A Conservative MSP said he 'fears' Celtic and Rangers fans could submit fake hate allegations against each other.

Police could be “deluged” with mass hate crime complaints against fans at Sunday’s Old Firm, a Conservative MSP has warned.

Murdo Fraser told STV News he “suspects” and “fears” that Celtic and Rangers fans could submit complaints against each other amid confusion around the law.

It comes after Ally McCoist, a former Rangers player and manager, “guaranteed” thousands of Rangers fans would breach the legislation at Ibrox this weekend.

Asked about the pundit’s comments on Friday, Fraser said it shows that people are not sure about what the law means.

He said: “What this points to is the level of uncertainty there is about the reach of this law and the concerns that were expressed in the run-up to the law being enacted by the police, and… that the police would find themselves deluged by lots of spurious and vexatious complaints.

“I think there’s a real concern we are going to see that on the back of the Old Firm match this weekend just as we’ve seen it at the start of this week.”

Nearly 4,000 hate crime reports were made to Police Scotland in the first two days of the Hate Crime and Public Act coming into force on Monday.

Among those were hate crime allegations against First Minister Humza Yousaf and Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Both were dismissed as not being criminal.

“I suspect and fear we will see the same after this weekend’s round of football, when we will see lots of complaints made to police,” Fraser said.

“I suspect very few, if any, will ever lead to prosecutions but police will need to spend their time looking into this matter when, in my view, they should be dealing with much more serious offences.”

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said police could be forced to devote 'huge resources' to hate crime complaints at the Old Firm.Getty Images

Police Scotland has pledged to investigate every hate crime complaint, despite no longer probing every “low-level” crime.

Fraser said police would be forced to “devote huge resources” to this.

‘Spurious and vexatious complaints’

The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP said there has already been a “huge amount of police time wasted” by activists making “spurious and vexatious complaints”.

“The concern is the vast majority, perhaps all complaints that are generated at a football match will be motivated by fans’ enmity towards one another as opposed to any genuine concern that a crime has been committed,” he added.

Fraser said opponents of the bill had warned it could be “weaponised” by “those with a particular agenda”.

“It’s just taking up more police time that could be devoted to other, more serious offences,” he said.

Asked whether fans should be concerned about breaking the new hate crime laws, Fraser said it would be difficult to know “where the line is drawn on what is a hate crime” until the matter ends up in court.

Humza Yousaf has ‘every confidence in police’ at Old Firm

The Hate Crime Act was voted through by the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats at Holyrood.

The First Minister has said the new law will ensure more people are protected from hatred in Scotland. He said there is a very high threshold for criminality and that free speech protections are built into the law.

Yousaf told STV News he had “every confidence” in the ability of officers to police Sunday’s match.

“Police can deal with complaints,” he said. “Those that are genuine and those on the other side that are vexatious…police have been able to deal vexatious complaints.

“We know police have been able to police Old Firm matches and other football matches very well, very appropriately and proportionately over the years and I have every confidence they will be able to do that at this weekend’s Old Firm game.

“The hate crime act is already well understood by Police Scotland, they have the training, they have an increase in budget this year.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “An appropriate policing plan is in place to maintain public safety and minimise any disruption to the community ahead of the fixture at Ibrox on Sunday, 7 April, 2024.

“Our response will balance the protection of human rights with upholding the law.

“We continue to work closely with a range of partners ahead of the match.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The chief constable has said Police Scotland is used to enforcing new legislation, with officers supported with the training and operational guidance they need to apply the law in a measured way using their discretion and common sense.

“The Scottish Government engages regularly with Police Scotland and football authorities on behaviour at football matches.”

Celtic FC, Rangers FC and the SPFL have all been approached for comment.

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