Old Firm fans in danger of 'losing trust in police', say MSPs
Labour MSPs have warned that Old Firm fans are in danger of losing trust in the police over the implementation of the law to crack down on sectarianism.
Michael McMahon and Hugh Henry spoke in light of a protest by the Green Brigade of Celtic fans in Glasgow on Saturday.
In response, the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the march had been held without the rightful authority of the council.
The minister also insisted that the anti-sectarianism act was working well.
During topical questions in the Holyrood chamber, Mr McMahon said Celtic fans had asked for an inquiry into the policing of the unofficial protest.
Thirteen people were arrested for alleged public order offences at the demonstration which took place outside the Chrystal Bell pub in Gallowgate.
Prior to the march, the Green Brigade had posted on its website that it would be holding a "corteo to Celtic Park to raise awareness and show support for the growing list of Celtic supporters receiving and facing bans" from both the Scottish Premier League football club and the procurator fiscal.
Strathclyde Police deployed almost 200 officers, including mounted police.
Mr McMahon believed the actions by officers were heavy handed and unnecessary.
"Topical Question number two also provoked controversy. It concerned the demonstration by the Green Brigade of Celtic fans on Saturday in protest at what they see as the inappropriate implementation by the police of the act designed to target sectarianism in connection with football.
Labour's Michael McMahon said MSPs should view the events at the weekend with "shock and alarm".
He said the act appeared to many to be counter-productive, causing trouble which it was designed to forestall. His colleague Hugh Henry said there was now a danger that both Celtic and Rangers fans would lose confidence in the police.
But the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill gave little ground. The demo on Saturday, he said, had not adhered to the requirement to provide prior notice to the local council - and had therefore not obtained consent. People were entitled to demonstrate - but not illegally."
He told the chamber: "Last week at Justice Questions I raised the concerns expressed by lawyers, academics and football fans that the offensive behaviour act and the policing of it was failing to tackle the problem of sectarianism in Scotland and was in fact raising tensions and being counter productive.
"In response through the harassment, victimisation and disproportionate actions of the police in pursing the act, a protest was held in Saturday by Celtic fans.
"Sadly, it is now being widely alleged by not only fans, but QCs and independent legal advisers who attended on Saturday that the event was met with the very harassment, victimisation and the disproportionate action from the police which the fans where protesting against in the first place."
Mr Henry also raised the issue of disgruntled football fans. He said the matter did not just concern marches and protests.
He added that he had received several complaints from both Celtic and Rangers fans concerned about being harassed by police.
Mr Henry called for the issue to be addressed before fans "lose confidence in the police".
Mr MacAskill: "Decisions on operation policing are clearly a matter for the chief constable, but we have complete faith in our police officers to take necessary and appropriate actions to tackle those who break the law."
He added that Strathclyde Police would be happy to brief any member on the recent events.
Mr MacAskill said CCTV footage was being examined from the march and would be available for members to view after the conclusion of legal proceedings.