Police probe Old Firm web hatred

Cordelia O'Neill,Press Association
Saturday 23 April 2011 09:17 BST

Police were today preparing to raid the homes of people allegedly involved in Old Firm internet hate campaigns.

An operation to target people posting racial and religious hate comments about Old Firm stars such as Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers striker El Hadji Diouf is planned ahead of the two teams meeting at Ibrox on Sunday. it was reported.

It is understood more than 50 people are to be targeted in a bid to crack down on "violent and hate-filled" comments being posted on the internet, police told the Daily Record newspaper.

The addresses were identified with the help of the Internet Service Providers Association, the newspaper reported.

Superintendent Kirk Kinnell of Strathclyde police told the Daily Record the operation had "at least 50" targets.

He said: "We know who we are targeting and we will be coming to the home addresses of people in the near future.

"It is a complex process but there is no hiding place on the internet. We are looking at comments about various individuals. So some are sectarian comments about Neil Lennon and some are racist comments about El Hadji-Diouf, for example, but all are hate filled.

"This operation will continue for as long as it needs to."

An extra 1000 officers will be on the streets this weekend as Celtic and Rangers meet for the seventh and last time this season.

Widespread concern over Old Firm violence was voiced following an ill-tempered clash between the two teams last month.

The high-profile disorder during the Scottish Cup game saw three Rangers players handed red cards and culminated in a confrontation between Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist and Lennon.

There was also disruption off the pitch with more than 30 supporters arrested at Celtic Park.

An Old Firm summit chaired by First Minister Alex Salmond was held in the wake of the game and an eight-point action plan was agreed.

Concerns about violence related to the game - and fuelled by hot weather and alcohol - were raised as detectives continue the hunt for whoever sent parcel bombs to Lennon, Paul McBride QC and former MSP Trish Godman.

Officers said the packages were "designed to cause real harm to the person who opened them".

On Thursday, Mr McBride, who represented Lennon at Hampden during his recent dispute with the Scottish Football Association (SFA) condemned whoever is behind the attacks.

He said: "They are despicable and cowardly individuals who are full of hatred and are out to hurt and kill.

"I think it is a terrorist act, an act designed to silence people."

Mr Salmond said the Scottish government was determined to ensure there would be "no hiding place" for those responsible for sectarian abuse on the internet.

He said the government had already announced plans to make sectarian incitement on the internet an indictable offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

"The various measures that have been brought forward over the last few months - the policing of the internet, the clampdown on sectarian chants at football matches - these will be taken forward," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"We also have to have key legal changes which make convictions in that area, because of corroboration, more possible, but we have already done that for different types of offences, for example sex crimes through the internet.

"It can certainly be done for sectarian crime. There is going to be no hiding place for those who are prepared to spout sectarian abuse."

Mr Salmond said he would welcome it if Lennon and Smith walked out together for the start of tomorrow's match.

"I think that is a good idea," he said. "Real football fans of both clubs and other clubs in Scotland want no truck with this nonsense."

Mr McBride said more had to be done to tackle abuse on the internet as it was fuelling violence on the streets.

"It is now spilling out into the streets, into actual violence, and the internet appears to be driver for individuals to come together to spew their hatred and bile out. I am afraid it has resulted in people dying. People are being stabbed in a sectarian way in Glasgow," he told the Today programme.

He said action was also needed to stamp out the sectarian chants and singing by rival fans at Old Firm games.

"They contribute by their behaviour to encouraging the lunatics out there," he said. "So I think we have to address the singing, we have to address the internet, and we have to deal with young children who have been brought up in that kind of atmosphere at home."

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