On the 22nd of August 2010, on the day of the first home game of season 2010/2011, the Green Brigade unfurled a banner of Neil Lennon with Ibrox in flames as the teams emerged from the tunnel. Everything went as planned and there appeared to be no sign that over the course of the next 16 months, my life was going to be turned upside down as I was made to attend 11 court dates for a banner that was deemed offensive.
In November of 2010 I was at work and got a call from my Grandparents saying that the Police were wanting to speak to me. This caused me both shock and confusion as I had never been in trouble with the Police in my life. After contacting a lawyer, he arranged for me to meet the police at London Road Police station. I went along where I was formally charged with a Sectarian Breach of The Peace (this was prior to the introduction of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012) before being taken to the cells and kept in for several hours. I was then questioned about the Neil Lennon banner at Celtic Park and admitted holding it on the basis that I felt that I had nothing to hide.
I was eventually released and told to appear at court in December, where I plead not guilty to the alleged offence. The Fiscal then dropped the Sectarian part of my charge meaning that it was now simply a BOTP. I then had to attend court a further 10 times, resulting in my case being perhaps the most expensive BOTP to be processed through the Scottish Judicial system. My case was continually adjourned for a number of spurious and occasionally ridiculous reasons. This pantomime continued for months with each passing court date making it increasingly difficult for me to remain in my job, as the days off naturally took their toll on the patience of my employer. As every court case came, the Procurator Fiscal would claim to not have sufficient evidence ready, or an eye witness would have to go in for a knee operation.
This charade continued for 16 months before my trial finally went ahead. The trial itself then lasted 3 days, ultimately resulting in a Not Guilty verdict. As one might expect, this was a major relief and a massive weight off my shoulders.
The verdict however did not undo the damage that this case caused. The regular days off work as well as the constant looming threat of the repercussions of a ‘guilty’ verdict remained a strain on my whole family. My lawyer was confident that we would win the case but at the same time he had to be realistic and inform us that a custodial sentence was a possibility if convicted. For someone who has never been in trouble with the law before, this seemed both surreal and terrifying. Holding a banner at a football match could theoretically have landed me in prison.
Fortunately, this particular nightmare was never realised and the judge came to the correct decision. Unfortunately though, much of the damage was already done. Due to the amount of days off that I had to take, I was subject to disciplinary proceedings at work. The amount of shifts I was offered decreased dramatically and I simply could not afford to live on a 16 hours a week wage when I had myself and my family to support. I eventually lost my job however I was fortunate enough to find another shortly afterwards.
To look back on what I was put through, and to consider the affect that it had on my family, it seems incredible that it all stemmed from holding a banner at a football match. A banner that was neither racist nor sectarian. Sadly it now seems that football fans are fair game in the eyes of the government and the police. As if to demonstrate that, and to emphasise the problems inherent within the new Offensive Behaviour Act, I was arrested again under the new law and wrongly accused of an apparent crime once again. Fortunately this time the judge had the good sense to see the case for what it was and he threw out the case on the basis of video evidence which exonerated me of any wrong doing, and thankfully I was spared the nightmare of further court appearances. Now I simply hope that common sense prevails and that the SNP can accept that this new law is simply not working, and that there must be a complete and drastic overhaul regarding the way that football fans are treated in this country.