Football safety review warns fans may face ‘significant risk’

Fans attending football matches could be at “significant risk”, a report into stadium safety has found.

The independent review of football policing in Scotland found inconsistencies in the way safety certification is managed across the country.

However the report, published on Wednesday, found the operational model for policing football is “certainly fit for purpose” with some “excellent” examples of good practice.

The progression of Rangers from the third division to the top flight served to “shine a spotlight” on safety practices around the country, the report said.

A number of “serious safety issues” at Rangers matches across the country were highlighted, including clubs erecting unsafe scaffolding on terracing for the large numbers of away fans and the deliberate selling of more tickets than the stadium capacity.

The review heard this was not confined to Rangers league games but also occurred at Scottish Cup matches where teams with large travelling support play at smaller grounds.

The review said the safety of spectators was put at risk and there could have been a “critical safety incident” at any of the grounds if not for the intervention of “committed professionals”.

There were also inconsistencies in the management of safety certificates around the country, with some sent to clubs through the post by local authorities without any site visit and some certificates rolling over into the next year.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for football policing who carried out the review, said: “Those type of examples clearly paint a picture where members of the public could be put at significant risk attending these events as a result of a lack of rigour in the safety framework and regime.

“A lot of people in a lot of organisations are working really hard to keep people safe, absolutely with the right motivation and intentions, but they are working in a framework which doesn’t support them doing it so I think there is a sense that people are getting by on the goodwill and professionalism of individuals rather than the statutory framework.”

He recommended an urgent multi-agency review to establish an appropriate “governance, consultation and inspection regime” for Scottish venues.

Police Scotland commissioned the review just weeks after fans were injured in a crush at the first Old Firm game of the season on September 2.

Celtic fans
An incident occurred at an Old Firm game in September as fans attempted to enter Parkhead (Mike Robb/PA)

Five people needed medical treatment following the incident at Parkhead as supporters tried to get into the stadium.

The review covered issues such as operational planning for matches, intelligence gathering and resource deployment and made 18 recommendations in total.

It found that in some cases, police were taking on issues that are not their responsibility and take officers away from other duties.

However it said the “questionable” quality of stewarding at some matches will “undoubtedly make it harder for Police Scotland to reduce its own resourcing of the footprint of stadiums”.

Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr, of Police Scotland, said: “Police Scotland has an enviable reputation around how it polices large events, including sporting events such as the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games, and I’m pleased that this independent review has highlighted this.

“But it is important for a learning organisation such as Police Scotland to reflect on areas where we may be able to improve our procedures or learn from good practice elsewhere.

“Therefore, we will consider the recommendations relating to policing and report to the Scottish Police Authority in due course.

“We have raised other issues outwith the remit of policing with the appropriate and relevant authorities.”

Alison Evison, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), said councils take their community safety role extremely seriously and will consider the recommendations and any implications for them.

She said: “The report is a regrettable missed opportunity.

“With better handling and a more open process involving all the key partners, we could have taken a genuinely strategic and holistic look at a serious subject.

“Given some recent well reported behaviours at football matches, it is crucial that we work together to get this right.”