This is reproduced here by kind permission of Krys Kujawa. It is an eyewitness report of the events of Saturday 16th March when the police kettled a group of peaceful football supporters in Glasgow. It originally appeared here.
I thought I’d share with you the report I sent on to Fans Against Criminalisation on Friday. It took me all week to put it together, but I felt it was worthwhile doing. If anyone has any complaints, please send them on to firstname.lastname@example.org as I have done.
Alternatively, FAC are meeting in the Ward Room of St Mary’s Church on Abercromby Street in the Calton between 12pm and 2pm this Saturday (March 23rd) to gather evidence from last Saturday’s events. Hopefully this report that I’ve sent them will help in those matters, but the more witnesses they can talk to the better.
Apologies if this is much longer than usual, but I wanted to be thorough. Obviously this is a report on what I saw on the day, so if it’s not 100% accurate then I may not have seen or heard something that other may have. That’s why it’s important that as many people as possible tell their story.
Back to the football next week. Hopefully.
Saturday, March 16th, 2013 started like any other for me. Celtic were playing Aberdeen at home at 3pm and I took advantage of not having to get up early for work. I still got up early enough to get breakfast and do a couple of bits and pieces on the computer.
Then I read about “the corteo” again.
I’d read about it a few times already in the days previous, but now that it was the day of the event I had a long think about whether or not I wanted to be part of it. I usually try and get to the games early anyway, and on this particular day my wife was working so I would be going to the match on my own. I had nothing better to do either so I figured “why not?”
Let me make this crystal clear. I’m not exactly a political activist. I have my own opinions about politics and I make them pretty clear through social media like Facebook and Twitter, but I rarely get involved in marches and demonstrations. I’m also not a member of the Green Brigade. I have other match day rituals that don’t really fit with singing and banner waving for ninety minutes every game. That’s not to say I don’t join in with some of it through the course of a game, but the “ultras” of the Celtic support are probably something I would have been part of in my younger days rather than now. That’s a personal opinion and I know that the Green Brigade comprises of people both younger and older than I am.
I do, however, appreciate everything they do to bring atmosphere to the games and while I may not agree with absolutely everything they do I find them to be as asset to the club. I know I’m not alone in that either. Celtic manager Neil Lennon has backed them in the past as well, never more so than when he planted the SPL trophy in front of their section at the end of the 2011/12 season as a thank you for their support.
So as someone who isn’t part of the Green Brigade, but still someone who attends home and away matches, I have a reasonably good perspective of what goes on. At home matches my regular seat is just a few sections along from 111 where the Green Brigade congregate and that allows me to see the significant increase in stewarding and policing that they suffer. At away matches the Celtic support is less structured and so all of the travelling supporters are subjected to the same treatment as the Green Brigade receive at home games.
When I arrive at home games I’m usually asked by a police officer if I have any cans or bottles on my person. I say no, they accept my word on that and I walk through the turnstile. I sit and watch the game with little or no interest from the stewards and indeed I barely notice that they are there apart from the one occasional brightly coloured jacket walking up and down the stairs in my peripheral vision. It’s my belief that this is how spectators of any sport should be treated. The police and stewards are there should be needed, but it is a hands off approach for the most part.
At away games it is very different. I’m almost always patted down by a steward or police officer prior to going through the turnstile. In these cases my word apparently isn’t enough. Once inside, the number of stewards and police officers watching the away support is always significantly higher than in the stands given to the home support. Amongst that high police presence there is invariably one office who can be found pointing a video camera at the away support.
I often look around the stadium to see how this compares. At home games I know the stewarding is sufficient for my area and there are never any problems. One look over at the Green Brigade however and it’s easy to spot the significantly higher number of brightly coloured jackets surrounding section 111. I can also sit and watch a group of police aiming a video camera at the group. It is obvious that the Green Brigade get the same treatment at home games as all Celtic supporters do at away games.
At away games I look at the home support and note that, for all the section of supporters I find myself in tend to be surrounded by stewards and police, the home support are generally left alone and the policing and stewarding is pretty low by comparison. It’s not like the home support are always well behaved. Indeed, on a recent trip to Perth I watched a young St Johnstone supporter giving nazi salutes to the travelling support just before half time in the match. He was eventually dealt with by the police, but it took them to move from the travelling support to the home support to do it. The question there would have to be why are the police treating some fans differently from others?
Supporters have not always been treated this way. I’ve been attending away matches for almost ten years now and this increase in lopsided policing and stewarding has only started recently, coinciding with the introduction of the Offensive Behaviour Bill. Somehow that seems to have sparked things into action, but only in certain directions.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Celtic support, and more than likely the Green Brigade specifically, are being harassed since the introduction of this ill-advised and ill-conceived bill. It may not be exclusive to the Celtic support, but given the size of that support it is of no surprise that it is possibly the most affected. While I’m all in favour of proper and fair policing of football, I’ve yet to see this since the introduction of the bill. Indeed, it appears to have grown steadily worse.
Although they are clearly the loudest group amongst the Celtic support, I have yet to see the Green Brigade do anything that actually warrants the action against them. The songs they sing are, by in large, football related. Indeed, they have introduced songs to football that have been picked up by those in charge of the music at Celtic as well as countless other groups of supporters in England. It is true that they have political leanings which they also make clear, but those are neither sectarian not offensive in nature. Promoting republicanism is a long way from supporting terrorism, as they are so often accused of doing, and in my view they never cross that line.
With all of that in mind, I fully supported the drive to raise awareness of the harassment that the introduction of this bill has caused. This harassment has been well documented by the Green Brigade themselves and I will not repeat what they have been saying here as I have no personally experienced it. However, what I have witnessed as well as the information that so many of those Green Brigade members charged under the bill later have their charges thrown out of court and their ability to go to football reinstated backs up the harassment assertion. I therefore decided to attend “the corteo” in full support.
As I always drive to football matches, I left early that Saturday morning and parked up at Celtic Park as I usually do. I then walked from Celtic Park, along the Gallowgate and up to the currently closed car park at Molendinar Street. Arriving there at 12.20pm I noted that there was already a police riot van parked on the Gallowgate next to that car park. Figuring that they were there in readiness of the “corteo” I continued walking up to Glasgow Cross to kill a bit of time prior to others meeting at the car park on Watson Street at 12.30pm.
I walked up High Street and then turned onto Bell Street before walking under the railway bridge and turning onto Molendinar Street and then onto Spoutmouth where I sat on the wall opposite the closed car park for a few minutes. The police riot van which was still parked there eventually drove away, turned into Spoutmouth and directly past me before turning left down Bell Street and out of my sight. As it was now past 12:30pm I headed onto the Gallowgate again and walked towards Glasgow Cross to where a few Celtic supporters had started to gather outside the Chrystal Bell pub at Watson Street.
As I didn’t know anyone else there, I stood up towards Glasgow Cross out of the way a bit. Knowing that Jas from The Celtic Network, a friend I have met at other functions, was also coming along I was keeping an eye out for him. As such I spent the next quarter of an hour watching as the group of Celtic supporters continued to grow. I also noticed an unmarked white car parked on double yellow lines on the Gallowgate opposite my position which had two police officers sitting in it.
As the group continued to grow and then began to assemble on the other side of Watson Street from the Chrystal Bell pub I moved down to stand outside the pub on Watson Street itself. In doing so I passed a few Celtic supporters handing out “The Banned Bhoys” t-shirts which was part of another effort to raise awareness. At this point I took my first photo of the day, clearly showing the group forming at the car park and with at least two police vans parked on the Gallowgate in preparation, as well as several police officers ready to escort the “corteo”. This photo is timestamped at 12.56pm.
Just after taking this photo, the group moved on down Watson Street. This action appeared to cause some panic in the ranks of the police officers who were already in attendance who appeared to expect them to move off down Gallowgate instead. As the group moved down Watson Street towards Bell Street, I distinctly heard one police officer claim “they’ve changed the route”, and watched as several other officers ran down Watson Street and turned right into Bell Street in an effort to get in front of the group.
As the group moved around the corner, I followed while purposely keeping my distance. Turning onto Bell Street I caught up with the group and while they walked down the road I walked along the path and started recording audio of the event. As the group approached the railway bridge they were met with a line of police officers intent on allowing them to go no further. The group stopped for a bit before continuing to move forward as the police line moved back. There appeared to be no real intention by the police to stop the group at this point, and merely to ensure they were slowed down and sent back towards Gallowgate. As the group moved under the bridge, I was able to take a second photo.
As can be seen, the police vans have been parked to force the group back towards Gallowgate along Molendinar Street and onto Spoutmouth. This was the path the group took and began to head in that direction. However, they continued to be slowed by police blocking their path in front of them without actually stopping them.
As I moved under the bridge myself, another group of police vans appeared from behind me on Bell Street. Some of them unloaded a large group of police officers who then ran under the bridge and towards the group, while a few hung back in the vans behind the group. I could also see that the junction of Spoutmouth and Gallowgate was blocked off by several police vans. At this point it was becoming clear that the group were about to be blocked in from all sides.
In an effort to get a better view of what was about to unfold, as well as to ensure I didn’t get caught up in the blockade with the rest of the group, I walked up onto the embankment. As I did so, the group stopped on Spoutmouth as the police finally halted their progress. Over the next few minutes more and more police began to arrive and form a ring around the group. This ring can be seen forming over the next three photos.
As the ring became more dense, it became clear that the group were being “kettled” as it not only increased in number, but decreased in circumference. At this point between the second and third photos above some of the group, obviously sensing they were being trapped in, began to try and push their way free.
It was obvious there was no malice from the group at this point, they merely wished not to be caught in the trap that the police officers had now laid. As some of the group started to break free and run over the embankment on my left towards the Gallowgate they were chased by police officers who were now wielding batons. While many of the main group remained in place and became trapped in the ring of police officers, those that attempted to flee were chased.
At this point, those fleeing chose to took one of two courses of action. Some disappeared out of my view up Gallowgate in an attempt to get clear of the action and away from the batons. Others elected to stay back on the embankment and document the action through smartphone videos and photos. The unlucky ones who didn’t manage to flee to either Gallowgate or the embankment were muscled to the ground and handcuffed, often taking several police officers to do so.
Those who were attempting to document the action from the same embankment that I was on were quickly followed by police shouting at them to rejoin the main group while still wielding batons. Many chose to ignore this command and backed off, including myself who had never been part of the group as I tried to avoid getting caught up as one of those fleeing. This involved me having to take up a new position, further back from the main group and obscured by the trees as can be seen in this next photo.
However, those attempting to flee were met with more resistance and found many of their exit routes blocked off. One such route can be seen in this next photo.
As things began to settle down, the main group were of no trouble. They stood, surrounded by the ring of police officers and waited to see what would happen next. As those fleeing were able to eventually find ways to get clear, or at least stop being hassled by police trying to add them to the main group, the embankment settled down enough to allow me to move position closer once more. These next two photos show things starting to calm down away from the main group, and my new position.
From this new perspective I was able to listen in to the police announcement over megaphone informing the main group that their procession was being halted due to the perceived public disorder and that they would be allowed to leave in groups of no more than one or two. Following this announcement those police officers not involved in the ring around the main group began to once again chase away the onlookers, this time including myself. I again had to change position, shown in this next photo.
Having witnessed all of this first hand, I can only come to the following conclusions.
While it is true that the group of protesters was sufficiently large that they could have been a disruption to traffic on the Gallowgate as the travelled to the stadium, this is not an unusual occurrence on match days. Indeed, later that day many of the supporters at the match against Aberdeen would have walked back along the Gallowgate. While I cannot attest that this did indeed occur on the day in question, I have myself walked that very route following matches at Celtic Park on previous occasions as part of a group far larger than was evident on this day.
The police were fully aware of where and when the protest was to take place, and were prepared for it prior to my arrival 40 minutes before the protest was due to take place. Police statements since the event have indicated they were not called until 1pm which can only refer to the massive number of additional resources and not their initial awareness of the event.
There was no malice from the protest prior to the first blocking encounter with the police at the railway bridge on Bell Street. Indeed, it seemed as if the police were going to assist in ensuring that everyone made it safely to Celtic Park.
There was no clear indication as to why the blockade at the railway bridge on Bell Street took place, although subsequent actions would indicate this action was to position them on Spoutmouth as well as to slow the protesters down long enough for police backup to arrive.
While protesters did indeed start to push against police in Spoutmouth, this was nothing more than to continue in the direction that was originally intended for the protest to go, and indeed the direction it appeared the police had been encouraging protesters to go. By this point in events there is no doubt that members of the group were beginning to feel trapped.
As the police presence continued to increase in number and began to close in on the main group, some realised what was occurring and attempted to flee the scene completely. They did not attack the police, but merely reacted to normal instinct to flee when about to be trapped and tried to push their way free.
This “kettling” action by the police was clearly designed to not only prevent the protest from going any further, despite original indications that the police were happy for it to take place, but also to provoke a reaction from those that were part of the protest. At no point was any announcement ever made to the group indicating that they would be stopped or why.
The first sign of any “attack” from either side came not from the protesters, but the police raising their batons to try and prevent those attempting to flee from doing so. Questions must be asked as to why the police were intent on stopping the protest from breaking up in such a manner when that would have been a quick catalyst to the protest ending. Questions must also be asked as to why the police thought raising their batons was an appropriate response to people trying to do nothing but flee.
The vast majority of the protesting group were well behaved. While I cannot possibly account for the actions of every protester, it was clear that a large proportion of them waited patiently within the “kettle” while those that chose to break free either attempted to flee the scene or stop and document the action. None of these actions can be deemed aggressive, offensive or dangerous.
As nothing I witnessed were actions against me I cannot make any official complaint on behalf of myself. However, I have been deeply troubled by what I witnessed happening to others and had I not been hanging back documenting this event then I could very well have become caught up in the events myself. I have therefore taken the time to properly write up everything I witnessed and I would hope that this document can help with any relevant meetings, actions or inquiries that follow.
In addition to this document, please have a listen to the first 15 minutes of Paradise Report #33 which includes the audio I recorded at the event itself.
KK (Paradise Report on Hail Hail Media)