Recently the Scottish Government have suggested they aren’t particularly interested in speeding up a review of the Offensive Behaviour Bill, but I think some of the following information might make people want to see a review before 2015, when the review is due to come up.
These statistics were obtained from the Scottish Government by Siobhan McMahon MSP and were stated in an interview by Jeanette Findlay from the Celtic Trust and Fans Against Criminilisation. You can find the original recording here, starting from about 66 minutes.
The first question put was…
“What projects have been funded to tackle sectarianism in each of the last two years?”
This was asked to get an idea of what educational projects were underway. The answer gave some rather surprising facts about where the money was going.
In short, according to Findlay and McMahon (via ScotGov)…
- A large amount of the funding for anti-sectarianism educational projects, in fact more than half of it, went to the FOCUS (Football Coordination Unit for Scotland) group of the police.
- In 2011-12 this group received 75% of the funding
- In 2012-13 they received 32% of the funding
- They received 1.82 million in total
- This unit consists of no more than 10 people
Furthermore, this group are there to police an act which at no point mentions sectarianism, but rather mentions “Offensive Behaviour”.
Findlay went on to say…
“One of the things that FAC (Fans Against Criminilisation) has always said is “in whose interest is this?”. The only people in whose interest this act now remains is the police service of Scotland because this is funding which is separate from their core budget. They have a core budget which is getting squeezed so they need to find other nice tempting budgets that they can get into, and they seem to be swallowing up the bulk of this budget.
A second question was put…
“How many people have been convicted under the Offensive Behaviour Act?”
- 64 people were prosecuted and of those, 54 were convicted under the part of the act which is about offensive behaviour at football between 1st March 2012 and 31st December 2012
- Before taking into account the costs of the lawyers, the court system etc, that works out as £33,703 per conviction.
- There were 4 people prosecuted under the part of the act which is about threatening communications and one person was convicted under that.
- Of Celtic supporters, who have been involved in the major protests against the bill and rightly or wrongly feel somewhat more persecuted by it, no one who has pleaded “not guilty” (and therefore gone to trial) has actually been convicted.
- If you look at 2011-12 the last full year of Section 74 stats, only 8% of all religious aggravated offences took place at football grounds.
- Therefore, only 8% of offences but then 75% and then 32% of the budgets for anti-sectarian projects are directed towards the policing of football. That makes 50% of the budget for 8% of the offences.
- More than 10,000 letters have been sent to MSPs raising concerns about the bill. That was in turn discussed in the Justice Committee meeting of the Parliament of the 23rd April.
It’s time to bring forward the review of this.
Finally, she suggested people should be putting in Freedom of Information Requests.
My podcasting colleague has informed me that, contrary to the impression I got from a recent interview on the subject of bringing forward the review, the law cannot be reviewed formally at any given time, although an informal review can obviously be done at any time.
Further, the requirement to report is built into the act itself and the law would need to be amended to speed up any review.
That said, given the car crash nature of the law, they should just get on with it.