Scotland politics

Low uptake for anti-sectarian scheme

Football fans Image copyright PA
Image caption Minister gave £60,000 to the scheme, which is designed to keep young people out of court

Just 22 people charged with offensive behaviour at football matches have completed a Scottish government-backed scheme to address sectarian attitudes.

The figure was revealed by Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing in response to a parliamentary question.

Ministers gave £60,000 to the Safeguarding Communities, Reducing Offending (Sacro) scheme last year.

It was created in an effort to keep people aged 12 to 24 charged with sectarian offences out of court.

'Best option'

More than 1,000 charges have been brought under the Scottish government's Offensive Behaviour at Football Act since its launch, leading to more than 200 criminal prosecutions, official figures up to 2015-16 show.

However, prosecutors have sent just 34 people to Sacro's anti-sectarian services programme, with only 22 people completing it.

All four of Holyrood's opposition parties have pledged to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Image copyright Andrew Milligan/Pa

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur, who uncovered the Sacro data, said the low uptake to the programme of those charged under the act was a cause for concern.

He said ministers needed to work with the Crown Office to make sure the most was made of the resource.

'Prosecution programme'

"Sacro's diversion-from-prosecution scheme is something that has the potential to make a big difference," he said.

"The fact that uptake is so low is therefore a concern.

"The Scottish government has provided funding, but more needs to be done to ensure that the Crown Office are making use of the programme when this is the best option.

"Unless action is taken, SNP ministers leave themselves open to the charge of having no interest in genuinely addressing the huge flaws in the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) or supporting schemes that help keep people out of court."

In response to the figures, Ms Ewing said she would meet with the Lord Advocate to discuss the issue.

She said: "Decisions to refer an accused to a diversion scheme are taken by prosecutors after full consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case reported by the police.

"The Scottish government-supported Sacro anti-sectarian services (SASS) diversion-from-prosecution programme was developed in late 2013 and began working with referrals in May 2014.

"The service is open to a wide range of organisations to make referrals although participation is voluntary, and if the client decides against participation the matter is returned to the referring body."

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