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Baton protester is banned from Glasgow Games

A COMMUNITY activist spent a night in police cells before being banned from the Commonwealth Games after he attempted to protest against the role of Atos in sponsoring Glasgow 2014.

Sean Clerkin, spokesman for the ­Glasgow Against Atos group, said he was attempting to highlight the involvement of the controversial firm, which conducts fitness-to-work tests on benefits claimants, with a peaceful protest as the Queen's Baton Relay passed through his home town of Barrhead in East Renfrewshire at 7pm on Wednesday.

He claims that, after stepping into the road, he was pounced on by four police officers and arrested. He was charged with breach of the peace and held in police cells until a court hearing yesterday afternoon, where bail conditions banning him from any venue where Commonwealth Games events are taking place were imposed.

Mr Clerkin, 53, who has also been banned from going within 100 yards of the baton relay, accused the authorities of attempting to silence legitimate protest ahead of the Games. He intends to plead not guilty to the breach of the peace charge when his trial takes place next March.

Speaking after his release, he said: "The last 20 hours have been among the worst of my life. We were planning to walk well ahead of the baton. We were not going to interfere with its progress. We just wanted to point out that Atos should not be a sponsor of the Commonwealth Games, that it seems money means more than the dignity of human beings.

"I want the Games to be a success but the right to protest is fundamental in a mature democracy. But protesters are being made to look like criminals and the way the Games are being policed is like something out of Vladimir Putin's Russia."

Mr Clerkin, who has no criminal record, also occupied the Glasgow 2014 superstore in George Square recently in a peaceful demonstration. The campaigner has previously stood for election as a Scottish Socialist Alliance candidate and made the headlines in April 2011 when he disrupted an appearance of then-Labour leader Iain Gray at Glasgow's Central Station, forcing the politician to seek refuge in a sandwich shop and creating one of the enduring images of the last Holyrood election campaign. The authorities have already faced allegations of heavy-handed policing of the Games, after proposals emerged to set up "protest zones". Protests are also anticipated over the human rights records of some Commonwealth countries.

At the hearing yesterday, at Paisley Sheriff Court, prosecutors claimed Mr Clerkin had run into the road in an attempt to disrupt the baton's progress.

The Crown originally requested that Mr Clerkin be banned from all event areas, which he claims would have effectively meant he was unable to enter the city centre and would lose his call centre job. Sheriff Derek Livingston said the Crown's conditions "may be going beyond what is reasonably required for the protection of the public" and told Mr Clerkin he was barred from going within 100 yards of the Queen's Baton Relay and was forbidden from any locations where Games events were taking place.

A Glasgow 2014 spokesman said: "Ensuring that every baton-bearer gets the opportunity to experience a safe and memorable relay is a priority for the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee."

l Police have traced one of two missing wrestlers from Cameroon's Commonwealth Games team to London. The team-mates had been reported missing while attending a training camp in Aberdeen. Inquiries are ongoing to trace the other man.

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