Strathclyde Police victimise Fanzine sellers

Published on Tuesday 6th March, 2012 by Celtic Trust

Those of you who have followed the account of the treatment of sellers of the new fanzine, The Thunder, will have been as disturbed as we were by this sinister turn of events.  For those of you who are not aware of the issue the details are as follows: 

  •  The Thunder’s editor is involved with Fans Against Criminalisation and he spoke out against the policing of football at the FAC rally in George Square last year. 
  • The first edition of The Thunder went on sale on 11 February  before the league game against Inverness Caledonian Thistle
  • Within 10 minutes police officers arrived and initially indicated that a Breach of the Peace was being committed
  • Within minutes this was changed to ‘illegal street trading’
  • The officer was then told that you don’t need a street trader’s licence to sell newspapers and periodicals – he agreed but said the publication had to be ‘registered’ (in fact this is irrelevant as it only has to be registered with the British Library within one month and it does not relate to where it is sold)
  • Nevertheless, more officers arrived and the sellers were threatened with arrest if they continued to sell the fanzine
  • About half an hour after that as one of the sellers approached the turnstiles with a box of the fanzines which he’d had earlier, he was charged with illegal street trading (we believe he has been charged under Section 7-1 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982) which makes it illegal to do something without a licence for which a licence is required.  All the fanzines he had were confiscated at that point
  • On 22nd February (midweek game against Dunfermline) the sellers began to sell the fanzine again, having taken legal advice that they were within their rights to sell the fanzines without a licence.
  • Again they were immediately approached by the police who again threatened them with arrest.  This officer agreed that you don’t need a licence but again insisted the publication had to be registered.  When challenged to state the Act which requires this, he stated ‘It is not my job to tell you the law, it’s to tell you what offence you are committing’.  Despite the illogical nature of this statement, the officer continued to threaten them with arrest.
  • The publishers sought advice on this supposed register from a variety of source – including the NUJ, the Scottish Newspaper Society, the Scottish Government and the Professional Publishers Association. No-one had ever heard of it. The (English) Football Supporters Federation were also contacted and likewise, they were also unaware of any register and are unaware of any fanzine ever being accused of illegal street trading by the police.
  • On Saturday 25th February (game against Motherwell) in a well publicised sales pitch which offered free jelly and ice cream with each edition of the fanzine which was bought, the sellers again began to set up.  Instantly they were approached and in one case two full boxes of the fanzine were seized ‘until we can establish whether a crime has been committed’.  In that case, the seller was told he was going to be charged and, after providing his details, was told he was not going to be charged!
  • All attempts to reason with the officers and explain that no licence is required – including referring them to their own website which clearly indicates that the sales of newspapers and periodicals do not require a licence – was in vain and the officers simply stated that this could be ‘discussed in court’.  The only upside to that was that fans in Section 111 were all treated to free ice creams – the jellys were confiscated by Celtic stewards after orders from the Control Room!

 A formal complaint was lodged against Strathclyde Police on 1st March and the outcome of that complaint is still awaited.  Since that time other developments have taken place.  On 4th March, the seller who had his boxes confiscated on the 25th went to London Road Police Station accompanied by the Chair of the Celtic Trust (we have a number of members involved in this case).  After being asked to wait for a period, the police officer who confiscated the fanzines, took both of them into a room and there, with an unnamed, uniformed officer, he informed the seller that ‘after conducting some research’ a decision had been made that he was going to be charged (again under Section 7-1 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.  When the police officer was asked for a receipt for the fanzines, the uniformed officer replied ‘they have been seized as criminal productions’.

The officer who charged the seller looked decidedly sheepish and unwilling to make eye contact.  He also had, what is commonly known in these parts, as a big riddy – as well he might!  One wonders if he was under instructions from someone higher up the food chain to do something he knew to be an abuse of his powers?

 The sum total of this massive waste of police time is that the fanzine is in serious danger, if it is not already the case, of being completely out of date by the time the issue is resolved.  The police know this and, we must assume, know that the sales of the first issue is what a small enterprise like a fanzine requires to fund the second and subsequent issues.  So in an act of petty spitefulness against a fanzine simply because it has links with a group whose only crime appears to be that they bring an atmosphere to Parkhead, have progressive political views, and don’t particularly want to be best pals with Strathclyde’s biggest gang, they have applied a severe financial penalty by abusing their powers. 

 It doesn’t matter that this is not a crime and the individuals concerned will subsequently be cleared of all charges (if the charges even proceed that is), the damage will have been done.  This is a tactic the police appear to have been using for some time.  Many of you will hear of arrests being made and of multiple court appearances for Celtic fans on a variety of petty issues, even before the introduction of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, but far fewer of you will know that the charges are one by one dropped or people are found Not Guilty.  This has taken in one case from August 2010 till January 2012 and there are cases still running which don’t have a hope in hell’s chance of ending in a conviction.  Meanwhile people’s lives, studies and work schedules are disrupted and they are often subject to bail conditions which prevent them from attending football matches.

What is the comeback for this?  If someone out there knows of the correct legal avenue for responding to this then please let us know.  In the meantime, all Celtic fans and all Celtic organisations should be offering their support to The Thunder as an act of solidarity.  It is their turn now but it could be your turn next.

One obvious way to do this is to buy the fanzine online and you can do this at http://the-thunder.com/shop-3/.   

United we stand, divided we fall.

 

 
 

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