First Minister Alex Salmond told Church he would publish sectarian data, Crown Office now says it destroyed most of it. THE CROWN OFFICE has been forced to admit it destroyed key statistics & data on sectarian offences which Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond had promised would be released after a meeting with the Catholic Bishop Tartarglia over Church concerns about the SNP’s “thrown together” Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill which aims to deal with Scotland’s now not-so-secret problem of sectarian crime. The Crown Office claim the files were destroyed in line with a policy of holding such data for two years however legal insiders are today claiming the material was destroyed because it showed the majority of sectarian crimes were against Roman Catholics around Orange Order marches.
After a meeting between Scotland’s First Minister & the Catholic Church over concerns about the wording of the bill and concerns the authorities under reported sectarian offences, both sides made it clear there had been a thaw in relations after some ‘heated discussion’. However, the Church remained unhappy that statistics on sectarian offences dating back to 2003, including the targets of any abuse, will not be made public as records are kept for only two years. The bishop spoke of his disappointment that, despite repeated requests, years of data on sectarian offences “remains locked in the vaults of the Crown Office”.
Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: “It’s deeply unfortunate the Crown Office practice has meant that a true and complete historic picture will never emerge.”
Bishop Tartaglia is quoted : “I particularly welcome the First Minister’s commitment to track and analyse sectarian crime on an on-going basis using all data relating to Section 74 of the Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2003. Clearly, we cannot tackle a problem without first measuring it.”
After the meeting, Mr Salmond said: “I affirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to publish the key statistics on the level of sectarian crime – not just on a one-off basis, but as an ongoing commitment to help us eradicate it. I also confirmed we would place an explicit freedom of expression clause in the second part of the Bill.”
In spite of Mr Salmond’s commitment to publish key statistics on sectarian crime, the admission by the Crown Office over the destruction of information & statistics on sectarian offences which has been sought by the Catholic Church in Scotland since 2006 appears to confirm the sectarian file shredding took place under former Lord Advocate, now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC as the Crown Office are now indicating there is only data available from 2010.
Commenting on the convenient destruction of the sectarian offences data, an insider told Scottish Law Reporter : “The data showed the majority of sectarian crimes were against Roman Catholics around Orange Order marches This would be too shocking for the SNP as they would be seen to be bringing in new legislation to punish Roman Catholics when in fact they should be bringing in legislation to control Orange Order parades.”
The Crown Office admission came after a question in the Scottish Parliament from MSP John Park was cryptically answered by the Scottish Government’s Roseanna Cunningham MSP, who is in charge of the anti sectarian legislation otherwise known as the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill.
Question S4W-02895 – John Park ( Mid Scotland and Fife ) (Scottish Labour ) (Date Lodged 22/09/2011 ) :
”To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Lord Advocate’s analysis of crimes committed under section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 in each year since its introduction will be made available to the Justice Committee before it completes its deliberations on the proposed new Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill.”
ANSWERED (pdf) by Roseanna Cunningham ( 06/10/2011 ):
”The Scottish Government will undertake a one year analysis of the data held by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in relation to Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. The analysis will cover the most recent data available – 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011 – and will be completed and published on the Scottish Government website by mid November.”
Back in September, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee chaired by the SNP’s now twice Convener of the Justice Committee, Christine Grahame MSP, heard evidence from Professor Tom Devine who made it clear academics, anthropologists and sociologists were waiting for the publication of the complete data (from 2003-2010) re religiously aggravated crime under the 2003 Act being compiled. Ms Grahame said she also wanted to see the data and ‘will press the Lord Advocate for it’.
Professor Tom Devine told the Justice Committee it was vital the Lord Advocate’s statistics on sectarian crime be released (click image or LINK to watch video clip)
Responding to questions relating to the 2003 act & offences aggravated by sectarian behaviour from John Lamont MSP, Professor Devine said : … I said that only 14 per cent of the cases that were assessed and evaluated related to events at or outside football matches. I was trying to refute the police officer’s assertion—so much of this process has been based on assertion rather than on argument, or on statements with evidence-that the issue is overwhelmingly a public order problem or is related to football matches. Some of the very few pieces of hard evidence from that snapshot of 2003 to early 2004 refute that analysis.
Most of those cases—54 per cent—were in the Glasgow area; 22 per cent were in Lanarkshire; and a substantial minority were in West Lothian. I can consider the reasons why that should be the case if you are interested, because they are historical.
Alcohol featured in the majority of cases, and in 49 per cent of cases, the police report revealed that the accused was under the influence at the time of the offence. Twice as many Catholic victims as Protestant victims were examined, and 1 per cent of cases showed Muslims to be the target. Fifteen per cent of cases arose in the context of marches.
We need the big database from 2003 to 2011 in order to be confident, and it will appear in the public domain in due course. The snapshot so far tells us that such incidents do not necessarily occur when or where one would think that they would—for example, in the marching season or at football matches. They are part of the fabric of certain areas of Scotia, which reflects the fact that the problem is societal
The Convener: You also referred to the Lord Advocate’s analysis, which is a separate matter.
Professor Devine: Yes. That will build on the snapshot, but importantly it will examine all the data between 2003 and the present. Academics, scholars, historians, anthropologists and sociologists have wanted to see that information for some time. It will not necessarily tell the entire truth, but it is hard,quantitative information from which we can learn a lot. It will be interesting to find out, when you next speak to Frank Mulholland, when that information will be release in the public domain.
The Convener: Again, that is a pre-emptive strike. It is going through my head that we will, when we are writing to the Lord Advocate for the guidelines, ask when that information is to be published.
Professor Devine: It is supposed to be published in the autumn.
The Convener: Is it to be published, or is it an internal matter?
Professor Devine: I think that there will be something of a controversial response if it is not published.
The Convener: We will ask if and when it will be published.
Professor Devine: It is not only to be published, but to be analysed.
The Full report of the meeting can be downloaded via the Scottish Parliament’s website here : Official Report of Meeting 13 September (545KB pdf) and the coverage of the entire session of evidence can be viewed in four parts, here : PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4
A law campaigner commenting on the Justice Committee’s proceedings said : “So all of these learned people are waiting to see something that doesn’t exist or if it does has been destroyed by the Crown Office. It is Orwellian akin to burning books.”
The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee subsequently voted along party lines, with the SNP’s majority membership on the Committee voting to ensure it backed the Scottish Government’s Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill.
Scottish Law Reporter’s coverage of the SNP’s anti sectarian legislation can be read here : Sectarianism in Scotland and the Scottish Government
The Sunday Herald newspaper reported :
9 Oct 2011
HUNDREDS of files that could have provided an invaluable insight into sectarian crime in Scotland have been destroyed as part of a bureaucratic housekeeping exercise, the country’s prosecution service has admitted.
The Crown Office revealed it had disposed of hundreds of police reports on religiously aggravated offences in line with a “strict” internal policy on data retention.
Since 2006, the Catholic Church has called for a detailed breakdown of the offences, after an early study suggested two-thirds of religiously aggravated crimes were against Catholics.
The Scottish Government promised before this year’s Holyrood elections that it would publish an analysis of sectarian offences if re-elected. However, the destruction of the original police reports to fiscals, the basis for the first study, means that is now impossible. The lost data covers most of 2005-09.
A Catholic Church spokesman said the Crown Office action was “deeply unfortunate”. The Government said further analysis would be published, but using data from 2010 onwards.
Section 74 of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act first let courts take into account the religious aggravation of crimes when passing sentence. Since then, the Crown Office has published the annual total of Section 74 reports to fiscals.
Last year, the number was up 10% to 693, of which 587 resulted in court proceedings. However, these figures do not show the nature of the aggravation – whether it was directed against Catholics, Protestants, Jews or Muslims. So far, the only detailed breakdown of this kind was produced in 2006, and covered Section 74 reports from January 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005. This study showed around two-thirds of offences were directed against Catholics, with 80% of offences committed in Glasgow or Lanarkshire.
Breach of the peace, which is usually prosecuted as a low-level or “summary” offence in the district or sheriff court, accounted for almost half of police reports ending in conviction.
A Crown Office spokesman said: “In accordance with the data retention policy of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, police reports in concluded summary cases are kept for two years. In accordance with the same policy, case reports for sheriff and jury cases are kept for five years.”