Lawyer accuses Edinburgh court of 'festival cleansing'

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ACRIMONY has coloured the start of the Edinburgh Festival, which opens tomorrow.

The festival and its enormous fringe festival came under attack yesterday on two fronts: a leading criminal lawyer claimed there was an attempt to 'cleanse' the city centre for tourists by imposing special bail conditions on down- and-outs.

And Edinburgh's top impresario for 30 years, Richard Demarco, accused both the official and fringe festivals of ignoring work from the world's trouble spots in favour of safe, dead artists and stand-up comedy.

The remarks about cleansing the city came after three men were freed from prison pending trial on drink-related breach of the peace charges, but only if they agreed to stay clear of tourist areas.

Alistair Duff, a criminal lawyer in Edinburgh and a former procurator fiscal for the city (Crown prosecution lawyer), said it was 'an abuse of the court process', adding that he suspected a move to purge the city of its less desirable face for the visitors.

'The sort of thing these three men were doing happens day in day out. It beggars belief that at the start of the festival the police should arrest them quite by chance. But I am more concerned about the bail condition. All it does is try to ensure that if an offence is committed while on bail, it is the citizens of Edinburgh who are pestered and not tourists from France, Germany, Italy or America.

'There does not even need to be an offence committed. If the man goes into the banned area, he is liable to be arrested and kept in custody at public expense.'

Kenneth Maciver, Edinburgh's assistant procurator fiscal, said: 'There is no sinister plot and it has nothing to do with the festival. It is simply part of our continuing effort to keep the city centre clear of crime for the public in general.'

He added that he could not think of previous cases where all the tourist areas had been put out of bounds, but thieves had in the past been banned from going to the main shopping street, Princes Street, and people making a nuisance at football grounds were often asked to agree to bail on condition they did not return.

Meanwhile, Richard Demarco, who stages visual art and drama shows at his gallery during the festival, accused both the fringe and the official festival, under its new director Brian McMaster, of playing safe.

Mr Demarco, an unsuccessful applicant for the festival directorship, leaves after this year to become professor of European cultural studies at Kingston University in south-west London. He said yesterday of the festival, whose highlights include drama retrospectives on Harley Granville Barker and C P Taylor, and a major art show on Miro: 'I'm sad that so much attention is being paid to looking back.

'There should be a commitment to the people who are being questioned to breaking-point. I could have arranged a show of Yugoslavian artists as I am in touch with most of the leading ones. But I cannot get funding from the official festival or the Scottish Arts Council. The view of Yugoslavian artists on the future of their country is at least as important as the views of politicians.'

The fringe, he added was 'sadly without the scent of danger'. 'Stand-up comedy is too much in evidence, and that is not healthy - it dominates the Assembly Rooms.'

Edinburgh Festival, page 26