Paul Wheelhouse MSP denies misleading parliament over rehabilitation scheme
THE CAMPAIGN to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBA) has launched new crticisim at a Scottish Government minister they accuse of misleading parliament.
A letter sent to minister for community safety and legal affairs Paul Wheelhouse MSP, by Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) accuses him of having an “inability to admit” that he misled the Scottish Parliament in June 2015, when they say he insinuated that the campaign supported his plans to rehabilitate young ‘offenders’ guilty of breaching the OBA.
The accusations are a response to an open letter from the minister, in which he defended his conduct in the Scottish Parliament.
In their open letter to Wheelhouse, FAC called on him to accept the falsehood of his claim that he had discussed the rehabilitation scheme with them, and said that he had created a false representation of FAC’s views.
They wrote: “We oppose the criminalisation of football supporters however we have repeatedly made it clear to you and your Government that the way to prevent that from happening is to repeal this farcical legislation.”
The letter attacks Wheelhouse for what it calls his: “inability to admit, much less apologise for, the manner in which you falsely insinuated that FAC as an organisation support the SACRO scheme”.
The campaign added:”Our position is that you knew that to be false when you made it.”
The escalating war of words began with a debate on the OBA on 6 June 2015, when Wheelhouse said in the parliamentary chamber that his plans “chimed” with FAC, despite having not discussed them with the campaign group, and despite FAC informing an aid to Wheelhouse immediately before the debate that they were not to be cited as supporting the scheme.
“Paul Wheelhouse clearly misled Parliament on that issue [of the Sacro scheme], though he continues to claim that he did not.” Michael McMahon MSP
FAC call for nothing short of the repeal of OBA legislation, which is designed to crack down on sectarianism in football, but which FAC claim criminalises football fans and is not enforceable.
The diversion from prosecution scheme, administered by Safeguarding Communities – Reducing Offending (Sacro), diverts young offenders from being processed through the courts by offering them rehabilitation schemes.
During the debate, Wheelhouse said: “I was delighted to be able to announce last Friday that I have extended the diversion from prosecution programme…I know that that chimes with concerns that have been raised by football clubs and other groups, including fans against criminalisation.”
Challenged by Michael McMahon MSP to withdraw the remarks, which he “should not have made”, Wheelhouse made a stronger statement including the claim that he had expressely discused the Sacro scheme with FAC. Wheelhouse later contradicted that claim in correspondence with FAC on 17 July 2015, which CommonSpace has seen.
“The Minister has made clear he understands FAC’s stated position is that they seek to repeal the Act.” Scottish Government spokesperson
Speaking to CommonSpace McMahon said: “Paul Wheelhouse clearly misled Parliament on that issue [of the Sacro scheme] though he continues to claim that he did not.”
A government spokesperson said: “The Minister did not mislead parliament; he gave his opinion, and it remains his view, that measures to avoid criminalising fans unnecessarily, such as is now being taken forward through the Sacro Diversion from Prosecution Scheme, respond positively to, or ‘chime’ with, one of the key concerns that have been raised with him by organisations including Fans Against Criminalisation and football clubs.
“The Minister has made clear he understands FAC’s stated position is that they seek to repeal the Act.”
Campaigners have complained that the OBA has poisoned relations between fans and police. In March 2013 hundreds of Celtic fans were kettled and 13 arrested in Glasgow’s Gallowgate.
In November 2015 CommonSpace reported on alleged incident of abuse committed by a Police Scotland officer against a young football fan.
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Picture courtesy of Fans Against Criminalisation