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Scottish football fans face hate crime complaints from TV viewers, senior lawyer warns

Humza Yousaf, a Celtic fan, told the Scottish Mail on Sunday that people were 'sick and tired' of hearing hateful chants at the fixtures
Humza Yousaf says people are 'sick and tired' of hearing hateful chants at Old Firm fixtures

Scottish football fans face hate crime complaints from members of the public who hear chants on TV at home, a senior lawyer has warned.

Police Scotland, which has already received 8,000 reports since the new laws came into force last week, is facing warnings that as many as 2,000 further complaints will be made on Sunday due to the Rangers vs Celtic clash at Ibrox.

Sectarian songs are often heard at Old Firm matches, raising fears that partisan supporters watching the game live on TV could swamp the force with new hate crime reports.

The warning came as a new poll, released on Sunday, showed that just 21 per cent of Scots want the hate crime law to be retained, with more than twice as many, 45 per cent, backing its repeal.

When undecided Scots were removed from the figures, 68 per cent want the new law to be scrapped just days after its introduction.

Partisan supporters watching the game live on TV could swamp Police Scotland with new hate crime reports
Partisan supporters watching the game live on TV could swamp Police Scotland with new hate crime reports - STU FOSTER/GETTY IMAGES

There have been widespread fears that the legislation, which makes it an offence to “stir up” hatred against protected groups, such as transgender people, the disabled or elderly, will have a chilling impact on freedom of speech.

The legislation is widely seen as having descended into farce due to the high number of complaints, which police had not anticipated, and after JK Rowling challenged officers to arrest her after “misgendering” a series of high-profile trans women. Police received several complaints about Rowling’s social media posts but said she had not committed an offence.

Thomas Ross KC, a leading ­Scottish advocate, said there was the clear prospect of football fans seeking to take advantage of the new Act to report rival supporters.

­“Historically there’s a lot of animosity between the supporters of the two clubs and each group of fans report the other for songs they each sing at matches,” he told the Sunday Mail.

“Undoubtedly, there’s the possibility things could be sung or said that could amount to an offence.

“It is highly likely that, come Monday morning, police will have received many more complaints from fans who have watched the game on TV.”

Police vehicles parked outside the ground ahead of the Rangers vs Celtic match at Ibrox Stadium
Police vehicles parked outside the ground ahead of the Rangers vs Celtic match at Ibrox Stadium - JANE BARLOW/PA

Police had previously pledged to investigate every hate crime report it received, despite introducing a controversial new policy in which it admitted some other offences would not be investigated by an officer.

Ally McCoist, the broadcaster and former Rangers and Scotland striker, sparked controversy last week when he “guaranteed” that he, along with 48,000 other fans, “will be committing a breach of that hate Bill in the Rangers v Celtic game”. He has since said he is no longer going to the match.

David Kennedy, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents officers, said the new law had been “a disaster and officers are swamped under a deluge of complaints”.

He added: “Officers are being advised to police the game as normal with warnings issued where appropriate.

“If someone commits a breach of the peace, sectarian or otherwise, they can be arrested as they would have been before the hate crime Act came in.

“The big problem with this new legislation is reporting numbers, and specifically online reporting.”

The Old Firm game, which kicked off at noon, is being shown live on Sky Sports. The broadcaster typically attempts to mute offensive chants at the matches.

The match is particularly liable to provoke animosity between Rangers and Celtic fans as the two sides are engaged in the closest title race in years.

Rangers fans in the stands during the Premiership match at Ibrox stadium, Glasgow
Rangers fans in the stands during the Premiership match at Ibrox stadium, Glasgow - JANE BARLOW/PA

On Saturday, Humza Yousaf, a Celtic fan, told the Scottish Mail on Sunday that people were “sick and tired” of hearing hateful chants at the fixtures.

He added: “It’s not the majority of fans, it’s a minority, but we don’t want to be hearing that.”

The poll, showing only one in five voters wanted to retain the law, was carried out by the polling firm FindOutNow, after being commissioned by Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.

It found that three quarters of Conservative supporters and just under half of Labour supporters wanted the law to be repealed. Almost a third of SNP supporters, 31 per cent, favour scrapping the Act.

Law had ‘backfired’

On Sunday morning, Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Greens co-leader and Scottish Government minister, appeared to concede that the law had backfired.

Mr Harvie, one of the most outspoken supporters of the legislation, claimed the furore around the law had “emboldened” the “worst elements of our society”.

He added: “I think we’ve seen deplorable levels of misinformation. I would genuinely appeal to those who are creating this misinformation, and wave of confusion and hostility, to think about the real-world consequences of your actions.

“Because this is emboldening not just the keyboard warriors or people who write angry columns in newspapers, it is emboldening the worst elements of our society who genuinely do pose a threat of outright and violence against marginalised and vulnerable people.”

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