Prosecution authorities are becoming more involved in sporting

incidents, but is the judicial stick being wielded uniformly? Derek

Douglas reports.

JUST six years ago the spectacle of a footballer appearing in a court

of law for a crime committed on the playing field was so rare that one

of Scotland's senior Queen's Counsel involved in just such a courtroom

drama referred to it as a unique test case.

Donald MacAulay QC was appearing for his client, the ex-Rangers

footballer Graham Roberts. It was 1988 and Roberts, along with fellow

Ibrox stars Terry Butcher and Chris Woods were standing trial on breach

of the peace charges at Glasgow Sheriff Court alongside Celtic's Frank


The Old Firm four were said to have committed the offence as they

jostled each other during a highly charged clash between the two great

Scottish rival clubs.

''No football player in this country has had to face a charge of this

nature. It is a test case. Footballers are not immune from the law but

the action complained of was totally within the field of play and not

calculated against the crowd,'' said Roberts's lawyer who, as Lord

MacAulay of Bragar, is now the Labour Party's Scottish legal spokesman.

MacAulay served his client well, the case against Roberts being found

not proven. Butcher, however, was fined #250 and Woods #500. Frank

McAvennie was found not guilty.

Woods and Butcher took the matter to appeal and lost again. However,

the dissenting but minority opinion of Lord Murray, who found in favour

of the footballers, raised some of the questions which, to many minds,

have not yet been satisfactorily answered.

Lord Murray said the central issue raised by the appeals was whether

the footballers' conduct constituted not only an infringement of the

laws of the game but also a criminal breach of the peace.

The appeal judge accepted that what might constitute a breach of the

peace in the ordinary context of the offence was not necessarily the

case within the context of a contact sport.

''Once it is accepted that violent physical contact can be legitimate

under the rules of a particular sport, subject no doubt to further rules

which limit the legitimacy of that violence, I consider that a radically

different context is set up from the ordinary public street or other

public place.''

But the decision by Lord Justice Clerk Ross and Lord Allanbridge that

the convictions should stand has acted as a pointer for prosecutors ever


As a result of the huge publicity the case attracted and the growing

awareness among police and prosecutors that the sporting arena was no

longer a ''law-free zone'', there has been an increased willingness on

the part of the legal authorities to expose sporting miscreants, and not

just footballers, to the full majesty of the law.

In October last year Sheriff Francis Lummy jailed Hamilton Accies'

winger Scott Henderson for 60 days after he had admitted head butting an

Uddingston opponent.

The Crown Office, while accepting at face value the contention that

more sportsmen are being prosecuted, is adamant that there has been no

policy decision to treat sporting offenders in the same manner as are

participants in a street brawl.

''There hasn't been a change of policy. Cases are still dealt with

strictly on a case-by-case basis but the circumstances in which the

alleged offence has been committed is also taken into account and in

cases involving offences in a big public stadium the possibility that

the offence might have an inflammatory effect on the crowd would also be

taken into account.

''I don't know what we can attribute the apparent increase in these

cases to. It is not for me to say that sport is becoming more violent

and I wouldn't do so, but whatever the reason it isn't because of a

policy decision by the Crown Office and prosecuting authorities,'' says

a Crown Office spokesman.

There is no doubt, though, that with special allowance for the

exceptional nature of a highly charged footballing encounter, the police

wish to see upheld the same standards of decency and propriety that they

would expect to be observed outside the stadium.

Strathclyde Police has the vast majority of Scotland's top football

clubs within its jurisdiction and the Strathclyde policeman with overall

responsibility for policing these grounds at the time of the Ferguson

incident was Assistant Chief Constable (Operations) Peter Gibson.

Mr Gibson said: ''No specific guidelines are laid down in respect of

police involvement in 'sporting incidents'. The conduct of sport

participants on the field of play is governed and controlled by the

rules of the game, the sports' governing bodies and associations and, on

the day, by the referee.

''Nevertheless, in the event of the police receiving a complaint

alleging that an offence or crime has been committed, then in the normal

course the police would carry out a full investigation and report all

the circumstances to the procurator fiscal. Thereafter, it is a matter

for the procurator fiscal to decide whether those involved are proceeded

against through the courts. It is certainly true to say that complaints

of this nature to the police, including complaints made by spectators,

have increased over recent years.''

Chief Superintendent Alan Naylor is secretary of the Lothian branch of

the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents. Leith, the Edinburgh

police division which he oversees, includes the Hibernian football

stadium at Easter Road.

He says: ''Our main objective is ensuring public safety. In the

context of a big football match any incident on the field of play which

might endanger public safety will be looked at very closely. What we

have been trying to do is to encourage football to become the kind of

family entertainment which it used to be.

''Common sense has to be employed. If we were to report everyone who

swore at a football match then I would be locking up 20,000 every

Saturday at Easter Road. If, however, we see a violent incident on the

field of play then we will stand back and await the outcome. If there is

a complaint of assault from a player or a complaint from a spectator

that the player's action has amounted to a breach of the peace then we

will prepare a report and it will go to the procurator fiscal.''

Chief Superintendent Naylor adds that, as a football match commander,

he briefs the match officials. ''I tell referees that they are

responsible for the green bit in the middle and that will remain the

case until we see an event which so overpowers them that we have to

become involved. Happily, unlike other countries, that happens very

rarely here.

''If I am a match commander and the two managers are swearing at each

other in their dug-outs and I receive a complaint from a spectator who

says that their language is disgraceful and upsetting his five-year-old

boy then we have an obligation to act,'' says Chief Superintendent


But here another problem arises. Because of the quasi-independent

nature of the procurator fiscal service it is apparent that fiscals are

not dealing even- handedly with sporting ''crimes''.

In the Ferguson case, the Glasgow procurator fiscal, Mr Andrew

Normand, ordered an investigation and, when that investigation was

complete, decided that there was a case to answer.

Meanwhile, last August, two Heart of Midlothian players, Craig Levein

and Graeme Hogg, fell out in spectacular fashion during a ''friendly''

match against Raith Rovers at Stark's Park.

Eyewitnesses say they saw Hogg push his skipper Levein who, they

claim, twice lashed out at his fellow defender, the second blow

connecting and sending Hogg to the ground. Both men were sent off by the

referee, Hogg making his exit on a stretcher.

Subsequently, the Tyncecastle management decided that condign

punishment was in order. Levein was stripped of the Hearts' captaincy

and both men were suspended, fined and placed on the transfer list.

But neither Levein nor Hogg faced prosecution? Kirkcaldy procurator

fiscal Frank Crowe told The Herald that the police did not submit a

report, he did not ask for a report and therefore no action was


No doubt the fact that both men were from the same team, and as a

result one set of supporters did not have their passions inflamed,

played a part in the decision not to prosecute. Nevertheless, here we

had an apparent assault which went unpunished by the law of the land.

Another sport, another procurator fiscal. Last autumn the Hawick and

South of Scotland rugby forward Brian Renwick was playing for the

Combined Scottish Districts in a showcase game at Mansfield Park against

top the New Zealand province Auckland.

In the course of a not particularly bad-tempered game Renwick was

felled by a vicious blow from one of the Auckland forwards. The punch

shattered Renwick's jaw and the young Hawick player was hospitalised as

surgeons rebuilt his face. The blow was caught on camera by the BBC who

were video-taping the match.

As a rugged Border forward, Renwick is used to the rough and tumble

which accompanies top-class rugby. But he felt the assault went beyond

the bounds of acceptability. ''This is different,'' he said as he

reported to matter to the police.

Renwick was hoping his assailant would be charged with common assault

but he was disappointed. The procurator fiscal in Jedburgh decided to

take no action.

The Hawick forward, for one, would welcome uniformity of approach

throughout the land and wishes, too, that the same willingness to

prosecute which saw Duncan Ferguson in the dock at Glasgow Sheriff Court

had been displayed when he found himself on the receiving end of an

Aucklander's right hook.


* May, 1995: Amateur footballer Robert Crooks, of Telford United, had

sentence deferred until May 24 for background reports after admitting a

breach of the peace during a match in Union Park, Edinburgh, by shouting

and swearing at the match referee and threatening violence.

* Mr Crooks also admitted possessing an offensive weapon -- a piece of

wood -- and another breach of the peace by driving a car on to the pitch

and putting the referee in fear for his safety.

* January, 1995: Norman Lawson, who was playing for a Safeway shop

staff team in a friendly football match at Saughton Park, Edinburgh, was

fined #250 and ordered to pay his victim #100 compensation after

admitting assaulting an opponent by butting him on the face.

* December, 1994: Plumber Gary Whitehead was ordered to pay an

opponent #500 compensation after being found guilty of assault by

head-butting him during a match between Port Seton Wemyss and Dalkeith

Horseshoe Bar in Port Seton, East Lothian.

* October, 1994: Hamilton Academicals rugby player Scott Henderson

jailed for 60 days at Hamilton Sheriff Court for head-butting opponent

in local derby against Uddingston. Freed pending appeal.

* August, 1994: Glenrothes Covenanters' footballer Graeme Harper

jailed for four months at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court after admitting

assault on referee during Covenanters v Glenrothes Tokheim match. Punch

left the referee with fractured cheekbone. SAFA banned Harper for 50


* July, 1994: After Old Bailey trial, rugby player William Hardy is

found not guilty of manslaughter following death of opponent in West

Drayton Centaurs v Hendon match.

* May, 1994: Preston Lodge rugby forward Scott McMillan who

head-butted Musselburgh opponent Stanley Ross is jailed for nine months

after Haddington Sheriff Court assault trial. Mr Ross suffered smashed

jaw and cheekbone.

* May, 1994: Strathclyde Police interview two footballers after fracas

in televised Scottish Junior Cup final at Ibrox between Glenafton

Athletic and Largs Thistle. Largs player apparently head-butted. Four

sent off. No report sought by Glasgow fiscal Andrew Normand and no

action taken.

* April, 1994: Footballer Jorge Louriero fined #140 at Edinburgh

Sheriff Court after admitting head-butt assault on referee during

amateur match at the Pitz Super Soccer complex in Edinburgh.

* March, 1994: Football linesman acquitted at Reading Crown Court of

assault on 13-year-old player during match between Theale Tigers and

Forest Hill Dynamos. Game abandoned after pitch invaded and general


* February, 1994: At Portsmouth court martial, Royal Navy rugby player

Ian Russell, accused of grievous bodily harm, receives four-month

suspended sentence and ordered to pay victim #1500 compensation

following incident in match between Navy and Havant.

* February, 1994: Inverness Sheriff Court trial of Kincraig shinty

player Leslie Anderson abandoned due to lack of evidence. In shinty's

first criminal court case the Kincraig player was accused of striking an

Inverness opponent on the head with his stick.

* December, 1993: Ian Cook, Alnwick, appears at Berwick Magistrates'

Court accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm on former Berwick

Rangers' player-manager Eric Tait during North Northumberland League


* November, 1993: Hawick and South of Scotland No 8 forward Brian

Renwick has jaw broken by punch while playing for Scottish Districts

against Auckland. Renwick reports alleged assault to police but

procurator fiscal takes no action.

* October, 1993: Stoke City striker Mark Stein receives conditional

discharge at Shrewsbury Crown Court for punching Stockport County player

in flare-up after Second Division match.

* August, 1993: Longside FC striker Jim Bain acquitted at Peterhead

Sheriff Court after ruling that a tackle which broke the leg of Aberdeen

Lads' player did not amount to a criminal offence.

* May, 1992: Perth Sheriff Court trial of football managers Walter

Smith of Rangers and Alex Totten of St Johnstone on breach of peace

charges after dug-out disagreement during Premier League clash. Totten

fined #250. The case against Smith was found not proven.

* October, 1988: Aberdeen procurator fiscal to take no action against

Rangers' captain Terry Butcher following police investigation into

alleged damage to referee's changing room door at Pittodrie.

* April, 1988: In what the defence team claimed was a test case, Old

Firm players Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Graham Roberts and Frank

McAvennie, appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court on breach of peace charges

arising from Old Firm match. Woods fined #500, Butcher fined #250. Case

against Roberts not proven and McAvennie found not guilty.