The jury's verdict in the Neil Lennon assault case needs no introduction. It caused a public scandal, and prompted a great deal of comment and commentary across the country. Having deleted the religious aggravations, and acquitted John Wilson of assault, it should be recalled that the jury did return a guilty verdict on one charge, condemning Wilson's conduct as a breach of the peace. Today, the presiding Sheriff, Fiona Reith QC, passed sentence on Wilson, handing down an eight month term in prison, reduced from the year she would have imposed, had Wilson not been willing to plead guilty to the charge from the outset - a plea rejected by the Crown. Scots Law Thoughts has more on the practical implications, factoring in the backdated sentencing, and the mandatory early release of prisoners serving "short" sentences (in this context, defined as less than four years).
Significantly, and in context, hardly surprisingly, the Sheriff also issued a football banning order under the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, lately analysed in a piece of research for the Scottish Government, and recently discussed on this blog. Under threat of criminal sanctions, Wilson is to be banned from football stadia for five years. Under the 2006 Act, the maximum period Wilson could have been subjected to an FBO was ten years. Unfortunately, the recent report on the topic does not record the average length of football banning orders imposed in Scotland, but in England and Wales (Table 6.4), of the 2,769 banning orders imposed on conviction and in force at the time of research, some 71.5% banned the convicted person from football grounds for less than five years, and 21% for more than five years. By way of contrast, the same research shows that in Scotland, only 101 banning orders have been made since the 2006 Act came into force. With that context in mind, here is the full text of Sheriff Reith's sentencing statement in Her Majesty's Advocate v. John Wilson...
“The jury in this case reached their verdict on the basis of the evidence presented to them in court and it now falls on me to sentence you in the light of that verdict. You were found guilty in the following terms: On 11 May 2011 at Tynecastle Football Stadium, Edinburgh, you John Clark Wilson did conduct yourself in a disorderly manner, run onto the field of play during the period of a designated sporting event, run at the away team dug out, shout, swear, all to the alarm and annoyance of others and thereby causing further disturbance within the crowd there and commit a breach of peace.
The crime of which you have been convicted by the jury was a serious one. The football match was a high profile game between Celtic and Hearts. There was evidence that there was a “terrible”, “very tense” and “poisonous” atmosphere in the stadium between both sets of supporters with racist and sectarian shouting and chanting coming from supporters. The atmosphere got even worse after a Hearts player was sent off and then when Celtic scored a second goal in the second half of the game.
It was just after this that you ran on to the field of play and committed the breach of the peace of which you have been convicted. PC Cleghorn told the court that the whole stadium then erupted. He described how extreme antagonism between both sets of supporters of a bigoted, sectarian nature “really kicked off”, as he put it. He described the atmosphere at this point as being very, very volatile and he feared a pitch incursion as the crowd was angry.
A breach of the peace can sometimes be a quite minor crime but sometimes it is not. In this case it was not minor at all; it was serious, and with serious potential consequences in the context of what was already a highly volatile atmosphere in the crowd of over 16,000 football supporters.
In arriving at my view on the question of sentence, I have also taken into account your own personal circumstances. In particular, I take account of what is said in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report and the submissions made on your behalf by Mr Nicolson. This includes what was said about expressions of remorse by you for your actions. My impression from having seen and heard you in evidence is that your remorse is genuine.
However, in all the circumstances, I take the view that the nature and gravity of the offence is such that no disposal other than custody would be appropriate in relation to this offence. It has to be clearly understood by you and others that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated and will be punished, and punished firmly, by the courts.
In selecting the length of sentence appropriate to mark and punish this offence, and to indicate to you and others the unacceptability of this sort of behaviour, I have taken into account – as I must in the light of guidance from the Appeal Court – that you offered to plead guilty to this charge at a very early stage in your letter to the Crown dated 23rd May 2011 in the precise terms of which you have been found guilty by the jury but that this plea was not accepted by the Crown.
If you had not offered to plead guilty at that earlier stage, I would have sentenced you to 12 months imprisonment. However, in view of your offer to plead guilty at a very early stage, that falls to be reduced in accordance with Appeal Court guidance to 8 months imprisonment. In view of the fact that you have been remanded in custody since you first appeared in court on this matter on 12 May, this sentence will be back-dated to that date.
I have also been invited by the Crown to consider the making of a football banning order. Mr Nicolson on your behalf did not take issue with the imposition of such an order but invited the court in the whole circumstances to impose an order for a lesser period than the maximum provided for in the legislation. He also submitted that a condition imposing a requirement as to the surrender of a passport in connection with regulated football matches outside the United Kingdom was unnecessary on the basis that you do not currently hold a passport.
In all the circumstances, I am satisfied that the offence of which you have been convicted is one to which section 51(4) of the Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 applies, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the making of a football banning order would help prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with any football matches and that it would be appropriate to make such an order in your case for a period of 5 years from today’s date.
The conditions of the order are as follows:
1. You must report to the police station at Drylaw, Edinburgh within 5 days of your release from imprisonment for this offence.
2. During the period of the order you are prohibited from entering any premises for the purpose of attending any regulated football matches in the United Kingdom
3. You must report to a police station in accordance with Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 in connection with regulated football matches outside the United Kingdom;
4. You must surrender any passport you hold in accordance with Chapter 1 of the 2006 Act in connection with any regulated football matches outside the United Kingdom; (This wording makes it clear you will only require to surrender a passport if you hold one)
5. Where a relevant event as specified in Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act occurs (which includes such matters as a change of your name or address, the loss of or receiving a new passport and an application for variation or termination of an order or an appeal in relation to the order), you must notify the football banning order authority of the prescribed information as defined in that schedule in relation to that event within 7 days beginning with the day on which the event occurs. If you fail to comply with any requirement of the order that would be an offence and you would be liable to a fine and/or a sentence of imprisonment.