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Ex-STV chief claims law gives police draconian powers

A FORMER STV executive, cleared of anti-English racism charges, has attacked the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, meant to tackle sectarianism on the terraces, claiming it gives the police "draconian powers".

Alan Smart, STV's former head of current affairs, was acquitted last week of charges of acting in a racially aggravated manner after singing a song telling "English Tories" to "go home" outside the party conference in Stirling last year.

A sheriff ruled that Smart, 54, had no case to answer and acquitted him of the charges.

Smart said: "It is extremely easy to get yourself arrested if a police officer is of a mind to arrest you, and I'd imagine it's even easier in the context of a football arena."

He drew comparisons between the charges he faced and prosecutions brought under the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The Act aims to clamp down on sectarian singing, gesturing and chanting at football games. Labour said last week that they would repeal the "anti-bigotry laws" if they win the next Holyrood election.

Smart's attack on the legislation has been supported by leading legal figures.

Paul Kavanagh, a Glasgow-based solicitor, said: "The more I have been involved with the prosecution of football fans, the more I've come to the informed view that the legislation is dreadful."

Advocate Niall McCluskey, a human rights lawyer, said: "What is required is the Scottish Government having the humility to take stock and actually address the concerns that have arisen."

Minister for Community Safety Roseanna Cunningham said: "We introduced this legislation in response to Scotland's police and prosecutors when they told us they needed greater powers to take a hard line on sectarianism."

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