Platini shows support for Lennon in 'the fight against sectarianism'

'Despicable and cowardly' campaign results in parcel bombs being sent to three figures associated with Celtic
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The Independent Online

The sending of parcel bombs to the Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, and other prominent supporters of the club was condemned from all sides yesterday. Liquid-based devices were sent to Lennon, Paul McBride QC and MSP Trish Godman. Strathclyde Police Detective Superintendent John Mitchell described the act as "despicable and cowardly", while Uefa's president, Michel Platini, said that "everyone in football supports" Lennon.

Recent forensic investigations of the packages revealed them to be more serious threats than initially thought, prompting fierce condemnation from Det Supt Mitchell. "The initial assessment was that they may have been a hoax," he said.

"We sent the devices to specialists for forensic examination and, on the back of that, we now realise they were indeed viable devices. They were definitely capable of causing significant harm and injury to individuals if they had opened them. Sending these types of packages through the post is a despicable and cowardly act."

Platini, speaking in London yesterday, expressed his dismay at the existence of sectarianism in football. "I am with [Lennon] in my heart," he said. "I think we must keep politics and religion out of football. There will be an inquiry and what has happened to the manager of Celtic is very bad. It is not permitted. Everyone in football supports him. We will fight against violence, sectarianism, everything. We will fight, but if someone is sending a bomb to someone else, that is very complicated for Uefa to manage that."

Lennon was given a resounding welcome by the Celtic supporters before the team's game against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park last night. Celtic won 4-0 through two goals from Kris Commons and strikes by Gary Hopper and Anthony Stokes to move one point behind Scottish Premier League leaders Rangers with a game in hand.

The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, described the events as "disgraceful" and vowed that there would be a united response from people across Scotland. "We've got to galvanise ourselves as a community and to have a real determination to eradicate sectarian behaviour from Scottish society and to stop some lunatic besmirching our wonderful game of football," he said.

"These disgraceful events should remind all of us who love the game of football of what unites us as a community. It is time to remember what we value in society, and unite to condemn those who use football as a pretext for their pathetic and dangerous prejudices."

Devices were sent not just to Lennon but to two Celtic fans in public life. All three targets have been visited by anti-terrorism officers, and high-profile Catholics have been warned to take precautions. The package addressed to Lennon at Celtic's Lennoxtown training ground was intercepted in Kirkintilloch in East Dunbartonshire on 26 March. Godman, a Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament and a Celtic supporter, had a device sent to her constituency office in Bridge of Weir in Renfrewshire. McBride has recently acted for Lennon and the club. The device addressed to him at work in Edinburgh was found in a letter box on Friday.

The Celtic chief executive, Peter Lawwell, called for a halt to the terror campaign against those associated with the club. Earlier this year Lennon and players Niall McGinn and Pat McCourt were all posted bullets. "It is an intolerable state of affairs which must end," Lawwell said. "Neil Lennon is a football manager who simply wants to carry out this role to the best of his professional ability. However, in this horrific ongoing campaign, he and other Celtic personnel continue to be the subject of repeated threats and intimidation. Celtic supporters should rest assured that Neil will continue to receive the full backing of everyone at the club. They should also understand that we will remain strong in the face of such intimidation."

Ally McCoist, the Rangers assistant manager, condemned the sending of the devices. "The sad thing is that no matter what I say or do, I don't think it's going to have a major effect on these people because they're sick individuals," he said. "We cannot let these idiots win and we won't let them win."

A history of division

Sectarianism has blighted Scottish football – and despite efforts to stamp it out, it still remains a problem:

7 October 1995 16-year-old Mark Scott was stabbed to death by Jason Campbell in an unprovoked attack as he walked past a Glasgow pub full of Rangers fans in his Celtic shirt.

1 January 1998 Rangers midfielder Paul Gascoigne was fined £40,000 after miming playing a flute, a Loyalist symbol, as he warmed up during an match against Celtic. He was also reprimanded in 1995 for the same offence.

9 June 1999 Leading QC Donald Findlay, the man who defended Scott's killer, resigned his position as vice chairman of Rangers for singing a sectarian song after the Scottish Cup final.

9 January 2011 Celtic manager Neil Lennon and players Niall McGinn and Pat McCourt receive bullets in the post.

7 April 2011 Rangers are charged by Uefa after sectarian chanting during a Europa League game with PSV Eindhoven.

Michael Lynch