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Thousands of Celtic fans rally and march against new laws

Thousands of Celtic fans today staged a mass rally and march in Glasgow in protest at new laws.

Fans march through the Merchant City. Pictures: Jamie Simpson
Pictures: Jamie Simpson

Around 3000 football fans who claimed they are being criminalised by "disproportionate" measures to crack down on hate crime converged on Glasgow's George Square in a lunchtime protest rally.

The event was organised on the back of the incident which saw Celtic's self-styled "ultras" the Green Brigade clash with police last month.

Then, some felt police went over the top, with officers "kettling" fans outside a Gallowgate pub and police deploying mounted officers and the force helicopter before making 13 arrests.

Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) organised today's George Square rally, but Glasgow City Council declined to grant permission for a parade as FAC had not complied with the required 28 days' notice to hold a street procession.

Before the event, Chief Superintendent Andy Bates, divisional commander of Greater Glasgow division of Police Scotland, had said: "Any procession along the road from George Square would be illegal and anyone involved could find themselves subject to prosecution."

However, by contrast with last month's approach, police today opted for a softly-softly approach, with only around 20 officers visible in George Square, and no attempt to intervene when around three-quarters of those at the rally spilled on to streets leading towards Parkhead for the home game against Hibs.

George Square and nearby Cochrane Street were brought to a standstill as protesters, chanting: "All Celtic fans against the bill", staged an impromptu march on pavements and roads, bringing traffic chaos.

The march continued across Ingram Street, Wilson Street, Bell Street, and High Street. Only at Gallowgate did police intervene more actively, sending in extra officers, some on horseback, to funnel the fans on to one side of the carriageway.

Police said they were not classing the two-and-a-half mile procession from George Square to Parkhead as an illegal march.

Chief Superintendent Bates said: "There was no disorder and no arrests and I am delighted by the way in which those who took part conducted themselves.

"As always when dealing with large crowds dispersing from an event it is inevitable that there will be some disruption to traffic. That said, I am pleased this was kept to a minimum and the people who took part in today's rally adhered to the pre-planned dispersal routes.

"When planning for a day like today, we have to strike a balance between protecting people's right to peaceful protest whilst ensuring that the city continues to operate with the minimum of disruption to the people who live and work here. I believe we achieved just that."

Earlier, George Square had been packed with fans carrying placards, many saying: "Football fans not criminals." One banner directed at police said: "Stop hiding your badges and lay down your batons."

One speaker at the rally, Labour MSP Michael McMahon, said: "Being a football fan cannot be of itself be a crime."

Glasgow University academic and Celtic Trust member Jeanette Findlay added: "What kind of country takes a law-abiding group of people and turns them into criminals. This affects all citizens, not just football fans."

Eddie Toner of  FAC said: "It's fantastic so many have come, from the youngest to the oldest."

FAC describes itself as "an independent umbrella group comprising the Green Brigade, Celtic Trust, Celtic Supporters Association, Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs and Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs.

It claims new football laws which give police new powers to tackle abuse at and around matches has led to "heavy-handed" policing and has created problems for ordinary supporters.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act gives police and prosecutors new powers to tackle sectarian songs and abuse at and around football matches, as well as threats posted on the internet or through the mail.

The Act created two distinct offences, punishable through a range of penalties up to a maximum five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Clarification

An earlier version of this online article stated that after the conclusion of the George Square rally, Celtic fans staged an "illegal" march through Glasgow; the article was then amended to read an "unauthorised" march. This was based on a prior police warning to fans "that any procession along the road from George Square would be illegal and anyone involved could find themselves subject to prosecution". In the event, on the day none of the processions by fans were considered by the police to have constituted an "illegal march". We are happy to make clear that fans dispersed from George Square along three approved dispersal routes in accordance with police instructions.

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