Police privately planned to allow jubilant Rangers fans to march into Glasgow city centre despite publicly insisting they would not, it has emerged.
Drunken violence and vandalism flared in George Square on May 15 after 15,000 fans marched from Ibrox to celebrate the club winning the title – just a few weeks after a similar gathering flouting lockdown restrictions provoked widespread concern and criticism. However, minutes of a high-level summit attended by then justice minister Humza Yousaf, city council leader Susan Aitken, Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson and police chiefs reveal no alternative plans were in place after the rejection of a proposal from Rangers to allow 10,000 fans to celebrate inside Ibrox for four consecutive days.
Instead, thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium before marching into the city where around 50 officers were injured in scenes of disorder condemned across the board while the city was left with a £60,000 clear-up bill. Around 45 people have now been arrested.
Legal experts and politicians have questioned why alternative approaches were not discussed while suggesting that secretly planning for the unlicensed march to go ahead undermines existing laws on gatherings.
They questioned the failure to discuss other options – including allowing fans into Ibrox, or rerouting them to a nearby park – or what was expected to happen when fans arrived in George Square. Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr and Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland, Divisional Commander for Greater Glasgow, spoke at the 46-minute summit, on May 11.
Minutes, obtained by The Sunday Post under Freedom of Information rules, show police were expecting between 5,000 and 15,000 supporters to gather at Ibrox, and that while they were planning to deploy 500 officers, they would have to be “pragmatic” in their response. Kerr told the meeting: “We won’t take steps which will lead to scores of people being injured. We will try to police sensibly and practically.”
Sutherland then warned the meeting that while police had said publicly they would not allow a procession by fans from Ibrox to George Square, if a large crowd tried to do so, they would not be stopped. The summary of the meeting quotes the officer saying: “We are trying to reduce a mass gathering to smallest number. Expecting between 5,000 to 15,000 supporters around Ibrox. Then a procession to George Square.”
He said the police would have to allow a mass gathering as it had done for recent Under One Banner and pro-Palestine demonstrations, adding: “Football is a way of life to many people.
“We have said publicly that we won’t facilitate the procession but if come Saturday, if a large crowd are going to walk, we will facilitate. No horse or batons. Pragmatic, common sense approach. If we get many thousands who gather/march then we will facilitate to reduce risks.”
Yousaf said he understood the challenges, and a robust police presence would help reduce numbers. Aitken said she had received messages expressing alarm at the prospect of a march on Saturday.
But critics last night questioned why no-one at the meeting had challenged the police view or raised alternatives to fans being allowed to march into the city. Dr Nick McKerrell, an expert in public law, said the minutes revealed a “baffling” approach.
He said: “In normal pre-pandemic times permission is required for a march from the council under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. With the Covid restrictions in place during May, this application could be rejected in a straight forward way by Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland for public safety reasons.
“Instead the police, the Scottish Government and the council were aware of a plan to breach the law by having an unauthorised procession days before it actually happened. Dispersing a celebrating crowd outside Ibrox would have been difficult but that is distinct from facilitating a march of several miles to the city centre which is what happened. There were many alternatives which the police do not seem to have considered – for example directing people to the closer Bellahouston Park adjacent to Ibrox. There was also time for the police to introduce legal powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to search anyone in the vicinity of Ibrox – this was used in the Black Lives Matter protest in Glasgow in the summer of 2020. This would have the affect of putting people off gathering and showing the attitude of the police towards it.
“The approach to the May events would seem to undermine Police Scotland and the City Council. In particular in its attitude to the law, or the lack of it, around public processions in Glasgow.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Public Health Minister and Glasgow MSP Sandesh Gulhane said: “These revelations pose new questions for those involved in the decision-making process. Engagement around any potential gathering was clearly taking place but it appears concerns weren’t raised or alternative route plans suggested.
“Those who broke Covid guidance and the law are ultimately responsible but this information highlights better planning and further discussions could have potentially avoided the scenes we saw.”
Glasgow MSP Paul Sweeney said: “These minutes reveal a major misjudgment by the key decision makers in Glasgow.”
However, on Friday, Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said fans had been asked not to gather – but 15,000 people selfishly chose to ignore that. He said: “To stop that many people coming into the city would have taken a disproportionate amount of force and would have created a significantly greater degree of disruption. The level of force we use is dictated by the actions and behaviour of the crowd. Sending in public order officers too early, particularly when a crowd is largely peaceful, can have the opposite effect and potentially trigger violence and disorder.”
The Scottish Government said: “We made it very clear people should not be gathering in large numbers. People have to take personal responsibility for their actions.”
Glasgow City Council said Aitken had made it clear at the meeting that gatherings should not take place.
It said: “Organising an alternative event at another location would have been illegal under the coronavirus regulations and, if anything, encouraged even more people to take part.”
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