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12/06/15 09:30

Offensive Behaviour Act evaluation published

YouGov survey also shows 80 per cent of Scots support the legislation.

An independent evaluation of new laws brought in two years ago to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches has been published today.

Since June 2013, researchers at the University of Stirling and ScotCen Social Research have been carrying out an extensive evaluation of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act, hearing evidence from a wide range of stakeholders including fans, match commanders, police, prosecutors and football club representatives.

The evaluation found evidence from a range of sources that offensive behaviour at football matches has decreased since the legislation was introduced, and strong support from police and prosecutors who said the laws had brought a new ‘simplicity and clarity’ to dealing with incidents.

A YouGov poll also published today reveals that 83 per cent of Scots support legislation to tackle offensive behaviour at football and 80 per cent of those polled directly support the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

In a survey of football fans as part of the evaluation of the Act by ScotCen research, 90 per cent of fans found songs which glorify or celebrate the loss of life or serious injury offensive, 82 per cent found songs in support of terrorist organisations offensive, 85 per cent found songs, chants and shouting about people’s religious background or beliefs offensive.

The publication comes on the day a series of hate crime statistics for Scotland are also published, including the latest breakdown for 2014-15 of charges in relation to football related incidents.

They show:

  • In 2014-15, there were 193 charges of ‘offensive behaviour at regulated football matches. This is a 6 per cent decrease on last year, representing a 28 per cent reduction in the first year of operation of the Act.
  • Broken down, 61 per cent of these charges related to ‘threatening behaviour’ (including engaging in fighting or challenging others to fight) – an increase from 49 per cent in the previous year. 30 per cent of these charges related to ‘hateful behaviour’ – a decrease from 36% last year. 13 per cent of these charges related to ‘otherwise offensive behaviour’ (celebrating the loss of life or action in support of terrorist organisations) – a decrease from 28 per cent in the previous year. Note: These add to more than 100 because charges can fit into more than one category.
  • Fewer charges occurred in football stadiums in 2014-15 than in 2013-14 and 2012-13. There were 89 charges in stadiums in 2014-15, compared to 109 charges in 2013-14 and 165 in 2012-13.
  • In 71 per cent of charges in 2014-15, the general community were the target of abuse, an increase from 58 per cent last year. Specific members of the public were targeted in 26 per cent of charges, a decrease from 36 per cent on the previous year. Workers were targeted in 12 per cent of charges, an increase from 7 per cent last year.
  • 42 charges included behaviour that was derogatory towards Roman Catholicism, a decrease from 46 charges last year and 88 charges in 2012-13. Six charges included behaviour derogatory towards Protestantism, a decrease from 11 last year and 16 charges in 2012-13. One charge included behaviour derogatory towards Judaism and one charge was in relation to behaviour derogatory to Islam.
  • The number of charges in relation to hate crimes overall fell by 7 per cent in 2014-15 compared to last year. There were falls in all categories of hate crime, except disability.
  • There was a 3 per cent decrease in charges in relation to religious hatred (including those now reported under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act), now at the lowest level since 2007-08. There was a 9 per cent decrease in charges in relation to race, now at their lowest level since 2003-04. There was a 5 per cent decrease in charges in relation to sexual orientation, the first time there has been such a decrease since legislation was introduced in 2010. There were 177 charges reported in relation to disability in 2014-15, a 20 per cent increase.

Minister for Community Safety Paul Wheelhouse welcomed the range of reports out today and pledged to act on the recommendations of the evaluation of the Act.

During a visit to leading reducing reoffending organisation Sacro, the Minister announced his first action, providing £66,883 of funding to roll out a national ‘Diversion from Prosecution’ education programme to be aimed at less serious and first time offenders who may fall foul of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act.

Mr Wheelhouse said:

“We have seen a raft of encouraging statistics and evidence published today showing that hate crimes in Scotland are on the decrease, both on the streets of Scotland and in our football grounds and this is to be welcomed.

“Religious crimes are down, race crimes are down, crimes in relation to sexuality are down and we’ve seen a decrease in crimes of offensive behaviour at regulated football matches in Scotland. Whilst the legislation we brought in two years ago has had its critics, the latest statistics show a steady decline in offences at stadiums and a YouGov poll shows 80 per cent of Scots support the Offensive Behaviour Act.

“We will not be complacent and will continue to monitor how the Act is working very closely going forward. However, I believe the legislation is working. The evaluations, backed by the latest statistics out today, demonstrate that the Act has had a positive impact and our approach has delivered real improvements in behaviour at football and online.

“There is clearly still much work to do and we will act upon the recommendations from the independent evaluation, starting today.

“There was concern within the evaluation around how we can help fans to understand the impact of their behaviour and to divert them from activity that could lead to criminal charges.

“Today, I’m acting on that recommendation by providing additional funding for Sacro to develop their ‘Diversion from Prosecution’ programme on a Scotland-wide programme and, where appropriate, make available an alternative disposal that will allow less serious or first time offenders committing an offence under the Act to avoid being caught up in the criminal justice system while providing a suitable and proportionate response to the offence committed.

“Football is widely recognised as Scotland’s national game and it’s rightly loved by millions of fans across the globe. The vast majority of football supporters are well-behaved and simply wish to support their team and enjoy the game. Healthy rivalry is the life blood of the sport and a Scotland without passionate football rivalry would be a much poorer country.

“However, when supporters allow their passion and rivalry to descend into abusive behaviour, bigotry and, in extreme cases, violence those supporters bring shame on our country, our clubs and all fair-minded people across Scotland. Independent analysis out today shows that Scotland’s football fans agree, with an overwhelming majority finding songs that glorify loss of life, songs in support of terrorism and songs and chants about peoples religion offensive.

“The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was designed to send out a clear message to those who let their passion and pride become violent or offensive. It tells the world that Scotland is a country which will not tolerate any form of prejudice, discrimination or hate crime, and it gives police and prosecutors an additional tool to tackle this behaviour.

“Of course the Scottish Government recognises that social issues like racism, sectarianism and homophobia go beyond just football. That is why we are making a substantial investment into grass roots community projects which are working to stamp out such behaviour.

“When it comes to football, it is time for all football supporters who are truly dedicated to the sport, to stand up and be counted and lead the way in ensuring that passion is not allowed to become stained with prejudice, and rivalry stained with bigotry. The prize will be a more positive environment for all which will attract ever more families and other new supporters and help to ensure the future of this fantastic sport in Scotland.”

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland said:

“I welcome the extension of the Sacro Diversion scheme to cover the whole of Scotland. It is important that all actions taken to tackle offending linked to sectarianism at football matches and elsewhere in our communities are proportionate and effective. Today’s announcement extends the range of measures available for prosecutors dealing with these cases. The Football Liaison Prosecutors within COPFS will continue to consider cases carefully and where appropriate will pursue prosecutions in Court with custodial sentences and football banning orders being available on conviction.

“Where the circumstances of the offence and the offender are such that it would be appropriate to divert them from prosecution then the SACRO diversion scheme will play an important role in the education and rehabilitation of offenders within the community.”

Sandra Lindsay, Service Manager for Sacro said:

“Thanks to this additional funding, Sacro will be able to develop its Diversion from Prosecution Service as a National Service for people who are charged under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication (Scotland) Act 2012.

“Sectarianism has no place in modern day Scotland. By engaging directly with people, we help them to identify their behaviours and understand these behaviours and attitudes are not acceptable. Sacro’s structured programme encourages positive behaviour change to bring about a reduction in offending.”

Notes to editors

The Scottish Government committed to a full evaluation of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act after two full football seasons.

The University of Stirling and ScotCen Social Research carried out the evaluation of section 1 (see: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/06/7094) and researchers from Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services carried out the evaluation of section 6 of the Act (see: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/06/5693).

Statistics published today ‘religiously aggravated offending in Scotland 2014-15’ can be found here: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/06/9065

Statistics published today ‘Charges reported under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act in 2014-15’ can be found here: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/06/7911

Statistics published today ‘Hate Crime in Scotland 2014-15’ (published by the Crown Office) can be found here: http://www.copfs.gov.uk/images/HateCrimeinScotland2014-15.pdf

The YouGov Plc poll was based on a total sample size of 1,044 adults in June 2015. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+). The Poll data can be found here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0047/00478775.pptx


Contact: Mark Hannan on 0131 244 3073/07870218112