Following the events in and around Gallowgate on 16th March 2013there was a meeting of FAC on Monday 18th March to plan and organise a response to the unprovoked and disproportionate Police action against Celtic fans on that day.
It was decided to hold a static demonstration/Rally in George Square, during which speakers would highlight these events and the problems arising from the police use of the Offensive Behaviour at Football/Threatening Communications legislation. We were advised that citizens have the right of assembly in George Square which is deemed as a public park for this purpose. However, to foster good relations, a decision was made to apply to the City Council for permission to hold this event which was then publicised.
There was further discussion around the fact that the majority of those attending the Rally would be making their way to Celtic Park for the match that afternoon. Mindful of the attacks on our fans by the police, which was one of the reasons for the Rally, we lodged an application with the City Council asking for permission to hold an organised march from the Square to Celtic Park, allowing fans to move to the ground in an orderly manner, free from police interference. This application was lodged on 21/3/13 and in it we acknowledged that we could not give the required 28 days’ notice but we were aware that this had been waived for previous events. We gave a number of reasons as to why we believed that an exception could be made. At no time did we publicise this application as we awaited the Council’s decision.
On 27th March at very short notice we were asked to attend a meeting with Council officials and senior police officers to discuss our applications. At this meeting we were told that the Council would facilitate the rally in the Square but that they were still considering the application for the march from the Square to Celtic Park. Despite these reservations the logistics of such a mass movement were discussed and some agreement reached. We responded to every request including the requirement to provide 250 stewards with high viz vests. We made a number of MSPs and Councillors aware of the meeting and what had been discussed so that they could assist.
On the same day officials from one of the member organisations of FAC had a meeting with other police officers, namely CC Corrigan, Supt Wayne Mawson, and ACC Bernard Higgins of Strathclyde Police who assured them that the police would be happy to agree to a public procession from George Square to Celtic Park. On Thursday at 4.30 we received a phonecall saying the Council was not convinced of the merits of our argument regarding the 28 day notice and therefore the procession could not take place. They asked us to come to a meeting on Tuesday 2nd April but we were unable to organise this in time.
On Tuesday 2nd April at 4.30pm the Principal Officer from the City Council called again to say that though we would not be granted permission to march to Celtic Park, we would actually be ‘facilitated along the carriageway’ by the Police. He asked if FAC organisers would attend a meeting the next morning at 10am. Despite the short notice once again we agreed to do so.
Besides Council and FAC personnel this meeting was also attended by Supt Brian McInulty and Chief Inspector Porte of the Police Service of Scotland. It quickly became apparent that the assurance given the previous evening by the Principal Officer had subsequently been withdrawn and that the police were not prepared to facilitate the movement of supporters from the Square to Celtic Park. We were handed a letter stating that we had not met the requirement to waive the 28 day notice. Specifically, the letter said ‘Having considered your procession notification and consulted with the Chief Constable, the Council is of the view that there are no exceptional circumstances in this case which would persuade it that a waiver of the minimum 28 day notification period is necessary.’
We asked which Chief Constable this was, and were told it was Campbell Corrigan who had, by that time, retired. The Police then began to talk about using our stewards to facilitate dispersal in small numbers and we pointed out that our stewards would not be stewards once the Rally ended. FAC’s aim had been to organise the rally for which we had achieved agreement and we had been refused permission for a march to Celtic Park. On that basis, we pointed out that we had very responsibly made a sensible suggestion to ensure the safety of everyone and that since they had rejected this proposal it was really their responsibility. We questioned them about the change in the position between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning but we were not given a straight answer. We felt that we had nothing to contribute at this point and we left the meeting and asked them to contact us when they had come to an agreement on what they were going to do.
Since Wednesday despite the great effort of MSPs and Councillors we have received the following information:
• The Council officers are saying that they cannot change their position; but that they understood that the Police could still 'facilitate’ movement ‘along the carriageway'
• The police indicated on two separate occasions that as there had been an application and that it had been refused and this meant they would be ‘duty bound’ to intervene. The Council are now saying that they did not 'refuse' the application but that they were unable to 'progress' it because it didn't meet the criteria for the exemption from giving 28 days’ notice.
• ACC Bernard Higgins was then consulted to see if this interpretation made a difference and he came back and said no.
• The police are suggesting that they are not going to arrest anyone during the demo but they may speak to the organisers of the rally and anyone else they can identify the following week should an unlawful procession takes place.
Given the depth of feeling which exists, following the events of 16th March, FAC have been careful not to do anything which could be seen to inflame the situation and hope to manage the situation on the day. However we understand that the Police Service of Scotland did issue a statement on this issue, which was posted on their website; was subsequently removed and has now reappeared.
This statement is being issued in response to that very inflammatory move by the Police Service of Scotland.
FAC has organised and received permission for a static demonstration in George Square which will go ahead as planned and to which we hope many people will come and show their opposition to police aggression, the criminalisation of football fans and the Offensive Behaviour Act.
We trust that, as with the previous FAC demonstration at George Square in October 2011, people will make their way to Celtic Park in a safe, orderly fashion. As can be seen from the above we had hoped to cooperate in this with the authorities but have been denied that opportunity by the combined decisions of Glasgow City Council and the Police Service of Scotland.
We will continue to forward any information /advice to those attending the Rally as and when we receive it.