BY Daniel Harkins | October 5 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


MSP calls for review after anger at Vatican flag’s appearance in police document

MSPs have questioned the Justice Secretary after a Police Scotland document said that displaying the Vatican flag in a ‘provocative manner’ could be a criminal offence.

The document included the Vatican flag as well as the Irish tricolour and the Catalan flag. The Saltire and the Union Jack were not included on the list. Police Scotland have subsequently said that ‘the flying of the Vatican flag in itself is not something that would be regarded as criminal behaviour.’ However, Labour MSP James Kelly has called for a review of why the flag was included in police documentation.

In the Scottish Parliament on Thursday October 4, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf was questioned about the document, and Mr Kelly, MSP for Glasgow, has written to Police Scotland asking that a forthcoming enquiry of policing at football matches includes the flag list, saying it is ‘ridiculous that waving the Vatican flag could get you arrested.’

The SCO reported last week that the police document, obtained by The Herald on Sunday, included pictures of potentially criminal symbols and a brief description of the laws which may be broken if they are flown ‘in a provocative manner.’

The restricted police document states: “Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under ­Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000.

“If they are altered to contain a reference to a proscribed organisation they may ­constitute an offence under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

“Irrespective of the above, the possession of these flags within a football ground may constitute a breach of ground regulations. As such, if these flags are seen, the stadium control room should be contacted; they will liaise with the football club and advise officers as to the appropriate course of action.”

James Kelly MSP said: “Yet again, the Catholic community has found itself questioning why legitimately promoting its own values can get you caught up with the police.

“For people of all faiths, including those in Catholic community, this policing review must fully explore the way policies are impacting upon identity and freedom of expression.

“The fallout surrounding the repeal of the Football Act exposed the need to listen to concerns of the Catholic community and I have written to Police Scotland to request that this flags list and the Catholic Faith are specifically included in the review process.

“This independent review must work to restore supporters’ trust in police on match days and a key step in working towards this would be a recognition that the concerns of the Catholic community will be fully respected.”

It was announced on Tuesday that the Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts is to lead a review of policing at football matches in Scotland. The review was ordered following a crush at Celtic Park on September 2 before a game against Rangers.

Last week, the Catholic Church said use of the Vatican flag ‘should not be restricted in any way.’

Scotland Chief Superintendent John McKenzie said that flying of the Vatican flag ‘in itself is not something that would be regarded as criminal behaviour.’

“However, when flown in conjunction with other behaviour such as threatening words or gestures or hate speech, the flying of the Vatican flag—or any other national flag—could form part of the narrative within a police report to the Procurator Fiscal,” he said.

“The briefing document in relation to flags was produced to support officers in relation to flags that have been seen, or are likely to be seen, in an operational setting at football.

“The guidance is not intended as an exhaustive list of flags that Police Scotland regard as potentially criminal, rather it is intended to promote a consistent and proportionate approach to flags, assisting operational officers in differentiating between legitimate flags, and those which include illegal images, or have illegal images added to them or are displayed in association with some form of criminal behaviour.

“Such additions could include insignia of terrorist organisations, hate speech or a range of other words and images.

“In the absence of some form of criminality, the flying of a national flag or the flag of any legitimate organisation is not in itself a criminal act.

“Police Scotland guidance is subject to regular review with associated consultation and as a listening organisation, the feedback in relation to flags will be incorporated into the next review of football-related guidance.”

During the debate in parliament, Sandra White, SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, asked the Justice minister Humza Yousaf to ‘speak to Police Scotland and provide details of who created the list and the rationale behind it.’

In a response to a question from Mr Kelly, the Justice Secretary said: “As attendees at football matches, James Kelly and I know that flags could be altered to include the names of organisations that are proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Flying national flags, such as the Vatican City flag, in their unaltered state would not, in itself, be a criminal offence. I give that reassurance to James Kelly and other members.”

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