No political pressure on police during Glasgow gatherings, says chief constable

Scotland’s police chief has insisted there was no political pressure put on the force during the recent deportation protest or violent celebrations by Rangers fans in Glasgow.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone defended how Police Scotland handled the policing of recent mass gatherings, including the demonstration on Kenmure Street that prevented immigration officers from taking away two men and what he described as “utterly unreasonable and unacceptable” scenes in the wake of Rangers’ league victory.

He also dismissed any suggestion that the police response to the “challenging” incidents was influenced by politicians or bias, and said he would “resist that with every breath of my being”.

Speaking at the Scottish Police Authority’s board meeting, Mr Livingstone said: “There was no undue political influence brought to bear on me as chief constable or my officers.

“It’s a completely core principle of a democratic system that adheres to the rule of law, that adheres to due process and respects the often-competing rights and liberties of individual systems and groups to ensure that, to allow the rule of law to take place.”

While stressing there are “intense levels of accountability” for the police, Mr Livingstone added: “It’s a key bulwark of freedom of democracy that operational police decisions are free from, and separate from, political direction.”

He praised the actions of officers at both incidents, revealing that 47 were injured during the violent scenes involving Rangers fans in George Square, and said: “They discharged public duties which were challenging, complex and intense, and they did so with good faith, integrity and professionalism.”

Explaining police involvement in the Kenmure Street incident, Mr Livingstone said: “Having considered all the risks that existed, including those to the individuals in the van and to those associated with large gatherings, Police Scotland assumed control of the incident and the commanders on the ground decided to end the detentions of the two men.

The 2018/19 audit of the Scottish Police Authority
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said there was no undue influence on the police force over the policing of mass gatherings (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

“This was a decision that was taken to protect the safety, the public health and the wellbeing of all involved and to minimise disruption in the local community.”

Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr added: “We absolutely understand the strong feelings on this issue, but those are matters for resolution in the political and policy space.

“And as the First Minister herself said, policing on that day was put in a rather invidious position.

“Our job is – and will remain – to support immigration enforcement where appropriate and our duties and responsibilities in that regard are not discretionary, they are set out in law.”

Describing the decision-making at celebrations by Rangers fans a few days later, Mr Livingstone said: “It would not have been proportionate to seek to disperse what was initially a raucous but largely peaceful crowd in the early part of the day.

Glasgow immigration protest
Police surrounded an immigration van in Kenmure Street, Glasgow, amid a large-scale protest (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“To do so could have resulted in greater levels of disorder, disruption and violence.

“But as the day progressed, the behaviour of a significant number of Rangers supporters in George Square became utterly unreasonable and unacceptable, it became alarming.

“Public order powers were invoked and instructions given to those supporters who remained that they should disperse.

“Thereafter, officers moved in to enforce that instruction and break up the crowds.”

He confirmed that 28 arrests were made on the day and a dedicated inquiry team has since been established to identify others who may have been involved in violent and criminal activity.