Police Scotland have condemned Rangers Football Club for failing to "take seriously" its duty to persuade fans to celebrate the team's title win safely after thousands of supporters flouted lockdown rules to hold wild celebrations.
Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said the behaviour of Rangers fans who congregated at Ibrox and George Square in Glasgow city centre on Sunday was "disgraceful" and had put the public at greater risk of catching the virus.
In an extraordinary intervention, he "strongly" condemned Rangers for failing to issue the "messages we repeatedly asked them to put out" asking fans to stay home or disperse.
He said it was "very clear" the club "did not take seriously their responsibilities in terms of seeking to persuade their fans to celebrate safely and responsibly" their first title win in a decade.
Mr Graham also hit back at widespread criticism of the force's failure to take stronger action to stop the flagrant law-breaking, or to try and disperse the crowd, saying officers were "faced with considerable danger."
Fans let off fireworks and smoke bombs as they chanted and wildly celebrated the victory on Sunday, with thousands marching from the stadium to the city centre accompanied by a police escort.
Officers made 28 arrests and seven people were issued with fixed penalty notices or reported to the Procurator Fiscal. Reasons for arrests included assaulting police officers, breaching coronavirus regulations, disorder, use of flares and sectarian breaches of the peace.
The scenes prompted widespread outrage across Scotland, with questions raised over why so many fans were allowed to congregate. Public gatherings are banned and a maximum of two people from two households are allowed to meet outdoors.
John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, said the celebrations were “shameful” and “an absolute disgrace” and accused the club of ignoring requests made during two meetings with the Government and police to urge fans to celebrate at home.
He attacked Rangers for showing a “lack of leadership” and expressed outrage that the fans had carried on in such a debauched manner while millions of others have been forced to make huge sacrifices over the past year.
Mr Swinney said the “silence from Rangers was deafening” and that management had a “duty” to tell fans not to gather, arguing that strong messaging could have helped disperse the crowds.
However, Rangers hit back in a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, in which it is understood the club attacked the “deafening silence” accusation as “inaccurate, unbalanced, and unfair”.
It is believed Rangers alleged it had agreed a “form of words” with the Scottish Government and police on Saturday afternoon, and that the Government said it would “follow up” but Rangers didn’t hear anything further until fans had already started gathering.
The letter is also said to argue that the police had intelligence that fans would gather, and so the club had tannoy announcements asking them to disperse.
The row broke out ahead of a parliamentary statement on Tuesday by Nicola Sturgeon in which she is expected to announce a speeding up of the easing of lockdown, including relaxing the rules around meeting others outside.
However, Chief Medical Officer Gregor Smith told the briefing there was a "real risk" of a rise in Covid-19 infections following the gatherings, while Mr Swinney warned it could mean “difficult decisions” regarding lockdown easing.
DCC Graham said: "The behaviour which we saw at the weekend was disgraceful and I utterly condemn the individuals who chose to completely disregard the coronavirus regulations, putting both the wider community and our officers at risk.
“I also strongly condemn the lack of support from Rangers Football Club over the messages we repeatedly asked them to put out to persuade fans not to go out celebrating and encourage those who did gather in large numbers to return home."
He said the approach adopted by officers "was entirely consistent with our approach throughout this pandemic to maintain public safety and minimise disorder"
"Established crowd control measures" were deployed to keep the public safe and manage fans who refused to disperse, he added.
Rangers had earlier hit back by releasing a pre-match video of team manager Steven Gerrard on Friday urging supporters to "abide by the rules".
In an accompanying statement, the club said it had "initiated" talks beforehand over the handling of fan celebrations following a title win with the Scottish Government, the police and the local MSP - Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.