Crowd crush posed significant stadium safety risk for fans, says police review

Sectarianism – lawyer Jamie Kerr, who was caught up in the crush (see link to that report) ; an image created to raise the issue of sectarianism; Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr; segregation – the crowd at a Celtic v Rangers match; children at an ecumenical service in Dumbarton praying for an end to sectarianism and police activity in the crowd after a goal was scored.

By Bill Heaney

A report into policing in Scottish football has identified serious concerns around stadium safety which are putting fans at risk.

Findings included incidents of clubs gaining safety certificates without stadium inspections and selling more tickets than the ground capacity.

Rangers’ away games while in the lower leagues prompted serious concerns.

Unsafe temporary scaffolding was discovered, with safety certificates altered to increase stadium capacity.

The report, which was commissioned by Police Scotland following a crush outside Celtic Park last year, also highlighted a need for better stewarding and better engagement with fans.

Roberts Mark DCC.jpg 2However, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, pictured right, who was tasked with compiling the report, says overall the current policing of Scottish football is fit for purpose.

His team looked at operational planning for matches, intelligence gathering and allocation of police resources on match days.

Mr Roberts told BBC Scotland news: “Some of the examples that were quoted do give rise for concern and I think it does require a degree of urgent attention.

“I would like the Scottish government to look at the framework to make sure people are properly discharging their responsibilities.”

He said: “I think the reassuring thing, if there is something to come out of this, it is that we saw individuals from the SPFL, from the SFA, really going above and beyond their remit, identifying the risk and working with Police Scotland to try and put measures in place to stop it happening.

“So, what you have is lots of professional, competent people, committed to Scottish football, trying to make a system work but they are not being supported by a system.”

Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “Most of the recommendations are very positive when it comes to the policing of football matches.

“As a senior police officer, I find that reassuring.

“But there are a number of specific areas where policing can improve but the issue of stadium safety has been subject to quite a lot of public and political commentary over the last number of days.

“The regulatory regime in which ground safety is considered is outside the remit of policing.

“But we all have a collective responsibility to make sure we address the one thing that I know fans would be concerned about when they read the report and that is, is it safe to go to grounds?

“I am confident that in the vast majority of cases that will be the case.”

Publication of the report comes as the government and football authorities continue to debate issues such as coin throwing and sectarianism.

  • Police warn of rise in ‘sectarianism and consistently thuggish behaviour’ at football
  • Police Scotland look into sectarian singing and coin throwing

Police Scotland announced they had asked for the Roberts’ Review one month after a crush at Celtic Park, but insisted the review was not triggered by a particular incident.

Concerns over the issuing of safety certificates have been raised by the Football Stadium Officers Association (FSOA).

Their spokesperson said: “We identified a lack of consistency among local authorities in the discharge of their responsibilities as to the licensing of stadiums – specifically the issue of safety certificates.

“We have raised these concerns with the Scottish government, Cosla and the relevant football authorities.”

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) president Alison Evison said the body takes the licensing of stadiums “very seriously”.

She continued: “We have a strong record of safety on football events activity.

“Scotland’s councils engage with partners to ensure the protection of our local communities who attend football matches and other events across the country.

“We treat our community safety role with high priority.

“Going forward if there are improvements identified of course local government and Cosla will work positively with partners to find solutions.”

Paul Goodwin, of the Scottish Football Supporters’ Association, said fans should be told how strict safety checks are at individual grounds.

He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We deserve the right, as customers, to know what grounds have got issues.

“A lot of this comes back to the overall issues within the game, in terms of governance and transparency.

“Fans don’t like to be thought of as customers, but sometimes if you draw it back to that conclusion, we deserve to know what the status of the places we are visiting are.

“If you were going to a theatre or going to a bar or any other entertainment venue, you would expect those provisions to be in place.”

However, West Dunbartonshire Council refuses to comment about the safety of football grounds in this area, including Boghead, Millburn Park, Glenhead Park, Duntocher, and Holm Park in Yoker.

One person was taken to hospital and four more were injured during the crush at Celtic Park on 2 September last year.

The incident happened about 20 minutes before the 12:00 kick-off against Rangers, as Celtic supporters tried to make their way into the stadium.

The Democrat was first to report on this at the time, quoting solicitor Jamie Kerr, who was caught up in it after after stadium access points were changed at the eleventh hour.

Celtic later apologised to fans and said the match was the first occasion which featured new segregation and access arrangements for the Old Firm fixture.

Some fans said the new plan resulted in some supporters being forced to climb over a high fence to escape the overcrowding, with one falling from a wall.

Speculation arose regarding a gate having been closed on Janefield Street and contributing to the congestion.

Police insisted, according to their understanding, the gate was open at all times, but that they would have the issue included in the review.

Police had earlier cordoned off a section of London Road to allow Rangers’ 800 fans access, forcing more home supporters than usual to use the Janefield Street entry point.

Fans told BBC Scotland how an atmosphere of “worry and panic” quickly escalated as hundreds were later caught in a second crush in a corridor under the stadium’s North Stand.

Police Scotland promised to meet supporters to discuss their concerns following criticism of its operation.

Celtic supporter groups called for a thorough investigation.

Meanwhile Jeanette Findlay, chairwoman of the Celtic Trust, said there was a culture inside the police service in Scotland to treat the fans as though they are “potential criminals”.

She said: “The culture is thinking about and planning for games in that way. It’s not about thinking, here are a group of citizens who are in a crowd situation and we need to keep them safe.”

The review comes days after Scotland’s justice secretary said serious measures were required to tackle unacceptable conduct at football matches.

Humza Yousaf said “nothing was off the table” when it came to dealing with sectarianism and violent behaviour.

His remarks followed a series of incidents, including Saturday night’s Scottish Cup match between Celtic and Hibernian where a glass bottle was thrown at Celtic forward Scott Sinclair.

Last week, footage showed an object almost hitting Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal during Wednesday’s 2-1 win for Celtic.

And last month Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd criticised Celtic fans after being hit by a coin and subjected to sectarian abuse while warming up as a substitute during the sides’ meeting at Rugby Park.

The initial report with photographs and quotes from members of the crowd is here on The Democrat:

  • What is remarkable about this Police Scotland report is that it fails to quote (and perhaps consult or interview) two of the persons quoted in it, one of whom was at the match and caught up in the crowd crush and who could have given an eye witness account of what happened. Editor

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