Crown Office destroyed sectarian crime data to make Scottish Government’s anti-bigot bill look good. The Institutionally Sectarian file shredders at the CROWN OFFICE who destroyed the too-hot-to-handle historical sectarian crime statistics discussed in the Scottish Parliament’s debate on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill by Professor Tom Devine which would have showed even greater numbers of religious hate crimes against Scotland’s Catholic population, have now come up with a new ‘seasonally adjusted’ set of statistics for one year alone, showing for 2010-2011 the numbers of sectarian offences are on the high side, with 693 charges aggravated by religious prejudice with the most offences (58%) being committed against Roman Catholics.
The full report can be read online here : Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2010-2011
Reacting to the publication of the Crown Office analysis, Bishop Philip Tartaglia, as President of the Communications Commission of the Bishops Conference of Scotland, said : "Although it has taken five years and repeated requests and in spite of the fact that in the intervening period hundreds of Crown office documents have been destroyed, preventing a more complete and balanced analysis, this report does nonetheless make a useful contribution to the sectarianism debate.”
Bishop Tartaglia continued : “Catholics will take little comfort from the fact that they were previously five times more likely to suffer a sectarian attack than anyone else and are now 4.5 times more likely. Since Catholics represent just 16% of Scotland's population, the fact that they account for almost 60% of the victims of sectarian crime reflects poorly on modern Scotland and is an indicator of entrenched hostility on a worrying scale. It remains the case that the overwhelming majority of sectarian incidents are not football related. Therefore, far more engagement is needed with the church in future by all public authorities committed to the eradication of religious intolerance. I restate the willingness and the readiness of our church officials to assist Strathclyde Police in their efforts to understand and monitor religiously aggravated behaviour.”
The statement ended by saying : “Finally, the Catholic Church in Scotland condemns in the strongest possible terms any sectarian behaviour or criminality from any quarter whatever, as having no place in a civilised society.”
The Scottish Government issued a Press Release on the report :
Statistics published by the Scottish Government today provide new detail on the scale of religious hate crimes across Scotland. The information has been made available following a pledge made by the First Minister that a more comprehensive analysis of data relating to Section 74 of the Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2003 would be undertaken and published.
The data shows that in 2010-11:
There were 693 charges aggravated by religious prejudice - up nearly 10 per cent in a year and the highest level in four years
58 per cent of charges related to offences which were derogatory towards Roman Catholicism and 37 per cent of charges related to offences which were derogatory to Protestantism. 2.3 per cent related to Judaism, and 2.1 per cent related to Islam
There were charges with a religious aggravation in 27 out of Scotland's 32 Local Authority areas
79 per cent of all offences took place in the Strathclyde police force area
A third of the total charges were related directly to football
In just over 60 per cent of cases, the accused had consumed alcohol prior to the offence
Fewer than 5 per cent of incidents were related to marches and parades
Minister for Community Safety, Roseanna Cunningham said: "These statistics show the shameful reality of religious hate crime in Scotland. Like racism, this kind of behaviour simply shouldn't be happening in a modern Scotland but sadly, it seems there are still those who think hatred on the basis of religion is acceptable. We need a wholesale change of attitudes, and this new report provides a valuable insight into the nature and scale of religious hate crime across Scotland. It shows that charges for religious hatred are up ten per cent on last year, to the highest level in four years, and it also shows that a disproportionate number of religious hate crimes are directly linked to football, both in stadiums, on public transport and in bars.”
"That is why we have made clear that we will be looking at further wide ranging actions across society, such as in schools and communities, in addition to legislation to send out a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated any longer. This report supports the direction of travel we are taking. We need to eradicate sectarianism once and for all by cracking down on all forms and expressions of sectarian hatred, through a combination of education and tough enforcement. "We must deal with sectarianism in the same way as with racism, and drink-driving. This Bill will not be the conclusive answer or the only solution, but it is the beginning of the end. You can either do nothing and allow the status quo which allows the mindless bigot to thrive or we can take the strong action needed now and send out a message loud and clear that this behaviour is not going to be tolerated any longer."
The report does not present any information about the religious beliefs or affiliations of the people targeted by the offensive conduct. Current legislation defines a religiously aggravated offence as an incident where the offender evinces towards the victim "malice and ill-will based on the victim's membership (or perceived membership) of a religious group or a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation", or, the offence is motivated by the same. There is no data held by Police or COPFS on victims' membership of religious or cultural groups with a perceived religious affiliation as this is not relevant to the definition of the crime in law.
The proposed new laws seek to create two new distinct offences:
The first offence targets any sectarian and threatening behaviour expressed at and around football matches which is likely to cause public disorder
The second offence relates to the communication of threats of serious harm or which are intended to stir up religious hatred on the internet or other communications
The Scottish Government claim the new powers “will give the police and the courts vital additional powers to deal with the minority of people who tarnish the image of Scotland through their expressions of hatred and bigotry at and around football. And those who peddle threats and hatred on the internet.”
However it has emerged today officials from the Scottish Government, Crown Office & various Police Forces have held meetings where they have spent more time worrying over categorising incidents in Scotland as “sectarian” or even as “terrorist” than getting a grip on the use of current laws to tackle Scotland’s burgeoning religious crime statistics against Catholics & other minority religious communities.
A legal insider speaking this morning to Scottish Law Reporter confirmed papers containing the previous data had been shredded due to the scale of historical sectarian crimes in Scotland along with information on discussions by Crown Office, Scottish Government & inter agency officials and letters from individuals who claimed to have faced anti-catholic prejudice in their dealings with some of Scotland’s eight Police Forces, several local authorities, named civil servants even the Crown Office itself. The source branded the now destroyed material as “gruesome”.
The source also referred to an undisclosed & unofficial agreement between the Crown Office & Police which avoids categorising several high profile, yet apparently random murders & occurring in Scotland over the past year as sectarian motivated crimes, despite the overwhelming feeling within the communities in which the incidents occurred the crimes appear to have sectarian overtones.
Neil Lennon, Trish Godman & Paul McBride were sent letter bombs, McBride’s comments about “terrorism” worried Scottish Govt officials. More worryingly, in a chilling file note shown to but not handed over to journalists, an agreement appears to have been made between law enforcement agencies and Scottish Government officials stating “we should avoid branding the letter bombs” (sent by crazed football fans to Celtic Manager Neil Lennon, & Celtic supporters which included former msp Trish Godman and top QC Paul McBride) “as a terrorist incident”, apparently out of fear it will encourage others & glorify the sender’s actions. Another document also makes reference to the fact one of the intended recipients of the letter bombs, QC Mr McBride, had already gone on record to the media calling the bombers "terrorists, thugs and cowards" and that one official would attempt to speak to Mr McBride (presumably to reign him in over the use of language – Ed)
BACKGROUND TO HISTORICAL SECTARIAN STATISTICS IN SCOTLAND
Back in September, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee chaired by the SNP’s now twice Convener of the Justice Committee, Christine Grahame MSP, heard evidence from Professor Tom Devine who made it clear academics, anthropologists and sociologists were waiting for the publication of the complete data (from 2003-2010) re religiously aggravated crime under the 2003 Act being compiled. Ms Grahame said she also wanted to see the data and ‘will press the Lord Advocate for it’.
Professor Tom Devine told the Justice Committee it was vital the Lord Advocate’s statistics on sectarian crime be released (click image or LINK to watch video clip)
Responding to questions relating to the 2003 act & offences aggravated by sectarian behaviour from John Lamont MSP, Professor Devine said : … I said that only 14 per cent of the cases that were assessed and evaluated related to events at or outside football matches. I was trying to refute the police officer’s assertion—so much of this process has been based on assertion rather than on argument, or on statements with evidence-that the issue is overwhelmingly a public order problem or is related to football matches. Some of the very few pieces of hard evidence from that snapshot of 2003 to early 2004 refute that analysis.
Most of those cases—54 per cent—were in the Glasgow area; 22 per cent were in Lanarkshire; and a substantial minority were in West Lothian. I can consider the reasons why that should be the case if you are interested, because they are historical.
Alcohol featured in the majority of cases, and in 49 per cent of cases, the police report revealed that the accused was under the influence at the time of the offence. Twice as many Catholic victims as Protestant victims were examined, and 1 per cent of cases showed Muslims to be the target. Fifteen per cent of cases arose in the context of marches.
We need the big database from 2003 to 2011 in order to be confident, and it will appear in the public domain in due course. The snapshot so far tells us that such incidents do not necessarily occur when or where one would think that they would—for example, in the marching season or at football matches. They are part of the fabric of certain areas of Scotia, which reflects the fact that the problem is societal
The Convener: You also referred to the Lord Advocate’s analysis, which is a separate matter.
Professor Devine: Yes. That will build on the snapshot, but importantly it will examine all the data between 2003 and the present. Academics, scholars, historians, anthropologists and sociologists have wanted to see that information for some time. It will not necessarily tell the entire truth, but it is hard,quantitative information from which we can learn a lot. It will be interesting to find out, when you next speak to Frank Mulholland, when that information will be release in the public domain.
The Convener: Again, that is a pre-emptive strike. It is going through my head that we will, when we are writing to the Lord Advocate for the guidelines, ask when that information is to be published.
Professor Devine: It is supposed to be published in the autumn.
The Convener: Is it to be published, or is it an internal matter?
Professor Devine: I think that there will be something of a controversial response if it is not published.
The Convener: We will ask if and when it will be published.
Professor Devine: It is not only to be published, but to be analysed.