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MORE than 100 thugs arrested over Sunday's game of shame at Parkhead were back on the streets last night.

Police freed them on bail rather than holding them to appear in court.

The surprise move sparked anger and put the Scottish legal system in the dock.

It had been expected the fans, especially the four accused of invading the pitch, would have appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court yesterday.

Leading the criticism was Scottish Office minister Henry McLeish, responsible for law and order, who demanded that all those arrested at Celtic Park are banned from the Old Firm Scottish Cup Final at Hampden on May 29.

He said: "People may say we are finding them guilty without trial, but the reputation of Scottish football is on the line and I hope that people would support me on this."

He also released an angry joint statement with Scottish Sports Minister Sam Galbraith.

It said: "What happened on Sunday was bad news for law and order, bad news for football and bad news for Scotland.

"There was a serious anticipation that those apprehended would be dealt with through the courts as quickly as possible."

Mr McLeish added: "I can understand the frustration and anger of people who have been attacked who are now seeing those apprehended being released before their court proceedings.

"We need to send the most positive message throughout the world that this sort of thing will never be repeated, we will not tolerate it.

"I am concerned that we are sending out the wrong message by the release of these people and there is no scope for complacency.

"We have to stand up and be counted. We have a tremendous reputation and do not want it spoiled by a minority of football hooligans."

Strathclyde Police said those arrested had been released, pending court apperances later, under guidelines issued by Scotland's top law officer, the Lord Advocate.

A spokesman added: "We have to have a good reason for detaining anyone. Each case is judged on its own merit."

Menzies Campbell QC, Liberal Democrat spokesman on law and order, said: "I am quite astonished the police have taken this action by releasing them.

"I would have thought that the four persons who invaded the pitch would have been automatically held in custody and sent to court today.

"It sounds very bizarre and a public explanation must be asked for."

Strathclyde Police Chief Constable John Orr last night described Sunday's events as "wholly unacceptable".

He said: "The turn of events on Sunday evening cause me serious concern. Had it not been for the prompt and professional response of my police officers, working with stadium stewards, the scale of the disorder could have been much worse.

"The behaviour of a small minority of fans was appalling. The four people who entered the field of play and those who took part in throwing coins are a disgrace. Thankfully, they are not representative of the vast majority of supporters who attended the match."

The Chief Constable confirmed that inquiries, including examining CCTV footage, are taking place to identify those who threw missiles onto the pitch.

Referee Hugh Dallas suffered a head gash that required four stitches after he was struck by a coin.

The Chief Constable continued: "There were sporadic disturbances in the city centre and beyond involving both sets of supporters.

"Officers attended more than 350 incidents. In a number of cases they came under attack from thugs who subjected them variously to attacks involving bottles, bricks and stones.

"It is a tribute to the courage and firm action of my officers that the incidents which took place were not far more serious."

Three officers, one a woman were injured and seven police vehicles were damaged.

He added: "This type of behaviour is wholly unacceptable to me, my officers and, importantly, to every law-abiding citizen in this Force area, irrespective of whether they are football supporters or not.

"I believe that the majority of those who indulged in acts of disorder and violence were apparently under the influence of alcohol and may well have been drinking for some considerable time prior to the evening kick-off.

"The late timing of the match may have provided some supporters with an opportunity to over-indulge in alcohol. I would welcome dialogue with all interested parties to review the timing of premier league fixtures next season."

The Chief Constable added that the Celtic v Rangers Scottish Cup Final to be played on May 29 should be a model showcase climax to the football season.

And he said: "I am utterly determined to minimise the opportunities for a repetition of the scenes witnessed on Sunday.

"However, it is clear that the fans themselves have a key role to play in ensuring that the match is remembered as a sporting occasion and I am calling on all supporters to act responsibly on the day."

Last night Celtic Football Club set up a hotline for information about fans who caused trouble during Sunday's match.

Celtic's public relations manager Peter McLean appealed to the club's supporters to come forward with information about those responsible for the violence.

He said: "Celtic urges anyone with information regarding the individuals who caused the regrettable events which occurred at Sunday's match, to contact the hotline so that the culprits can be dealt with".

The club has pledged to ban for life any spectators proven to have caused the problems which marred the match.
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Author:Ferguson, Iain
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 5, 1999
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