Tag Archives: Breach of the Peace

Is It A Crime To Wear A T-Shirt Supporting the INLA at a Rangers v Celtic Game? The High Court Says Yes

On 18th September 2011 Kevin Maguire attended the Rangers v Celtic match at Ibrox. One assumes he is a Celtic fan. One wonders if he had carefully chosen his wardrobe for the occasion.

As the High Court stated in its decision which can be found here in Maguire v PF Glasgow, Mr Maguire:-

“was wearing a black top which, in bright green letters approximately 3 to 4 inches in size, displayed the letters “INLA”. On the back of the top was, again in large bright green letters, the slogan “F… YOUR POPPY REMEMBER DERRY”. As is well-known, the initials INLA refer to the Irish National Liberation Army, which is a proscribed organisation in terms of schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. The reference to Derry is, of course, to the events in that town on 30 January 1972.”

Two officers from Strathclyde Police saw Mr Maguire’s attire as he left the ground amongst the 3,000 Celtic fans present at the game. The officers considered that his T-shirt posed a threat of disturbance to public order. Continue reading

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Filed under Criminal Appeals, Criminal Law, Human Rights

The Daily Record Calms The Atmosphere Before Old Firm Game With Headline About Hatred of Neil Lennon

Sheriff Fiona Reith said  this week, when sentencing John Wilson for his breach of the peace at the game where he did NOT assault Neil Lennon the following.

The football match was a high profile game between Celtic and Hearts.  There was evidence that there was a “terrible”, “very tense” and “poisonous” atmosphere in the stadium between both sets of supporters with racist and sectarian shouting and chanting coming from supporters…  PC Cleghorn … described how extreme antagonism between both sets of supporters of a bigoted, sectarian nature “really kicked off”, as he put it.  He described the atmosphere at this point as being very, very volatile and he feared a pitch incursion as the crowd was angry. 

“A breach of the peace can sometimes be a quite minor crime but sometimes it is not.  In this case it was not minor at all; it was serious, and with serious potential consequences in the context of what was already a highly volatile atmosphere in the crowd of over 16,000 football supporters.”

These comments, together with the “top line” sentence of 12 months showed recognition by the court that football games can be “powder kegs” where problems can quickly escalate. The courts clearly wish to take action to prevent repetitions of Mr Wilson’s criminal behaviour.

(c) Stadiumguide.com

Tomorrow Rangers play Celtic at Ibrox.

These games are always fraught with headaches for the police and security staff on duty. Whilst it would be wrong to classify everyone who attends these games as “bigoted” or “sectarian” no-one would dispute that there are “fans” on both sides who would qualify for that description. Bearing in mind that Rangers are in the midst of allegedly serious financial woes, and that neither team has started the season firing on all cylinders, tomorrow’s match is most definitely a “high profile” one where the atmosphere, especially if the game is going against one side, might well become poisonous.

In addition Neil Lennon has been the subject, over his time in Scotland, of physical attack, verbal assaults, vilification by opposing crowds throughout Scotland, abuse in the media and finally to threats and alleged nail bombs being sent to him.

Surely any responsible organisation would take care not to stoke the fires of hatred higher?

The back page of today’s Daily Record carries the headline – “Who is More Hated at Ibrox? Is it Lennon or the Taxman?”

Lower down the page, above an article titled “Ally: No Grudge Match” we see the infamous picture of the argument between Lennon and McCoist last season, showing the Celtic manager’s angry face, and the back of the Rangers’ boss’ head.

The piece inside the Record (which I have not read as it does not appear to be online) might be a detailed analysis of the issues regarding Lennon and the HMRC issues with Rangers – it might take care to provide a commentary on why Neil Lennon, above anyone else in Scottish football in recent times, has been subject to such vilification – it might try to assess why Neil Lennon is a particular thorn in the Rangers flesh.

However, even if it does, I fail to see how the headline and the juxtaposed picture can in any way assist the calming of the atmosphere tomorrow. If there is trouble, will the Record acknowledge that it could, even in the slightest way, have contributed? No – it will splash the story across the first six pages, with a pull out with all the photos inside.

Could it be argued that the headline commits, or is likely to cause, a breach of the peace? It possibly could, but there is no way that any proceedings would be brought against the Record for that – as we saw yesterday with the Met Police action against the Guardian (click the link for a trenchant criticism by Stephen Raeburn of the Firm Magazine), police action against the media provokes a civil liberties backlash which is entirely justified.

The rights of a free press to publish are vital to a properly functioning democratic society, but there is not, nor should there be, the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded cinema.

I am not advocating action against the Record for this, let that be clear, but I would hope that someone there would have a long look at this headline and avoid a repetition. Based on history, that might be a forlorn hope.

Interestingly last week, on BBC Radio Scotland, Jim Traynor, the experienced and respected Chief Sports Writer for the Record, pointed out most clearly that the journalists did not write the headlines, and that it was the sub-editors who did so. This was in connection with the articles about Rangers’ “War Chest” available under the new Craig Whyte regime. Jim Traynor denied vigorously to Chick Young that that was his phrase.

As I say, hopefully the person responsible will have a word in their ear, and even more so, one hopes that the game tomorrow is talked about afterwards for the football, and not far any trouble on or off the pitch.

 

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John Wilson – 8 Months For Not Assaulting Neil Lennon – Why It’s Fair That He Is Now Free

John Wilson, convicted by a jury of breach of the peace at the Hearts v Celtic match in May, and controversially acquitted of the charge of assaulting Neil Lennon, appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today for sentencing.

Sheriff Fiona Reith, who had presided at the trial, passed a sentence of 8 months imprisonment, backdated to the date of his first court appearance on 12th May. Mr Wilson has spent all that time in custody, not having been granted bail, and therefore under the rule whereby a convicted person is released after serving one half of a “short” sentence, as this is, he will now be a free man.

Sheriff Reith’s sentencing statement is carried in full on the excellent Scottish Judiciary website. The link is here.

The Sheriff noted the terms of the charge of which Mr Wilson had been convicted, namely that “On 11 May 2011 at Tynecastle Football Stadium, Edinburgh, you John Clark Wilson did conduct yourself in a disorderly manner, run onto the field of play during the period of a designated sporting event, run at the away team dug out, shout, swear, all to the alarm and annoyance of others and thereby causing further disturbance within the crowd there and commit a breach of peace”.

The charge of which he was acquitted and the alleged religious aggravation which was removed by the jury from the breach of the peace charge are irrelevant to the Sheriff’s decision on sentence.

Sheriff Reith referred to the “poisonous” atmosphere at the match, as spoken to by witnesses, and described the evidence of one of the police officers who feared a pitch invasion following Mr Wilson’s actions.

The Sheriff stated “A breach of the peace can sometimes be a quite minor crime but sometimes it is not.  In this case it was not minor at all; it was serious, and with serious potential consequences in the context of what was already a highly volatile atmosphere in the crowd of over 16,000 football supporters.”

After commenting favourably on the Social Work reports regarding Mr Wilson, and noting his remorse which she took as genuine, she went on to say “However, in all the circumstances, I take the view that the nature and gravity of the offence is such that no disposal other than custody would be appropriate in relation to this offence.  It has to be clearly understood by you and others that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated and will be punished, and punished firmly, by the courts.” (Emphasis added)

She noted that the early offer to plead guilty to the charge of which he was convicted (and indeed it is understood that Mr Wilson offered to plead guilty to both charges but without the religious aggravation on either) meant that she discounted what would have been a 12 month sentence to an 8 month sentence.

In addition a Football Banning Order was issued against Mr Wilson, a power which had been noted recently, was being little used by the courts.

Is it coincidence that the sentence imposed happens to mean that Mr Wilson is now released? I am sure that played no part in the Sheriff’s decision.

However it would be hoped that the clear comments made by Sheriff Reith, as highlighted above, and the fact that, at the top line, Mr Wilson would have received a 12 month sentence for breach of the peace if not for his early plea offer, will allay concerns that had been expressed that in some way, the jury’s verdict made it “open season” for people to try to emulate Mr Wilson.

Anyone at a football match who is thinking about encroaching from the spectating area with aggressive intent, whether with or without religious, racial or other aggravating features, is looking at a custodial sentence in future, I suspect, if they allow their exuberance to get the better of them.

I am sure that there will still be disquiet about the jury’s verdict here and the rules preventing discussion with jurors preclude us from knowing why they decided what they did.

I am equally sure that some people will express anger that Mr Wilson has now “walked free” even though he has been in custody for the last four months, and has had his picture shown in the media across the nation. This seems to be a very fair sentence passed by an experienced and wise Sheriff, who had the advantage of hearing all the evidence in court.

Indeed whilst drafting this post, I have already seen tweets commenting on how ridiculous it is that Mr Wilson is free now. As I thought these seem to miss the point that he has been in prison since mid May.

It is of course open to the defence to appeal if they consider that the sentence was unduly severe. I am sure that they would not do so.

The Crown could appeal on the basis that the sentence was unduly lenient. In light of the public statement by the Lord Advocate regarding the case, prior to sentencing, one wonders if the Crown might consider this, on the basis that the High Court would then get to have their say and effectively set the bar for these offences.

I should say that, as far as I can see, the sentence is perfectly fair and I would be surprised if (a) there was any appeal and (b) if the High Court made any change to the sentence.

If Mr Wilson had been convicted of assault or had had the religious aggravation added, then it is clear that his sentence would have been harsher. The Sheriff has done the justice system a service, I feel, by doing her job of considering all the relevant matters, disregarding the irrelevant, and pronouncing a fair disposal.

I suspect that there might be many though who will disagree!

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Filed under Courts, Criminal Law, Football