Article excerpt

Byline: Paul O'Hare

THE Neil Lennon bomb plot trial has given Scots the courage to speak out about sectarianism, according to the country's top law officer.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC said publicity surrounding the case meant the number of religious hate crimes being reported soared by almost a third last year.

He said putting the spotlight on sectarianism in football has given more people the confidence to report crimes - resulting in almost 900 charges.

Trevor Muirhead, 44, and Neil McKenzie, 42, of North Ayrshire, were both jailed for five years last month after they were convicted of sending suspect packages to the Celtic boss, late QC Paul McBride and ex-MSP Trish Godman.

Mulholland said: "In the past year, there has been a lot of publicity about this type of criminal behaviour and about sectarian behaviour at football matches. What we are seeing are the fruits of that.

to "This conduct is not acceptable and, depending on the circumstances, it is criminal.

"With a robust prosecution policy, we are seeing, I think, that people who are the victims of this type of behaviour are more confident in reporting it to the police and prosecutors."

The hate crime statistics for 2011/12 show there were 897 charges with a religious aggravation - 29 per cent more than the previous year.

The Crown Office report also recorded a 46 per cent rise in crimes against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation - to 652 from 447.

Race crime reached a new peak in filed increased by eight per cent.

There were a record 4518 race charges compared to 4178 the year before.

There were also 68 crimes aggravated by prejudice relating to disability - 20 more than in 2010/11.

And 16 charges were reported in relation to prejudice linked to transgender identity, two more than in the previous 12 months.

The Lord Advocate said the Lennon case caused shock and revulsion across the country.

And he identified hate crime as one of his key priorities and vowed it will be dealt with in a "zero tolerance" fashion.

Mulholland said: "It was a bad year for this type of behaviour but I think the action police and prosecutors have taken demonstrates that it is completely unacceptable and will be treated with the utmost seriousness.

"Don't get involved in it - or you could end up serving a five-year jail term."

He also had a warning for people who post hate messages on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, saying: "You don't have immunity because you post something in your bedroom.

"If you post grossly offensive comments directed at someone's religion, race or sexuality, then there is a good chance there will be a chap on the door and you could find yourself in the dock."

The Lord Advocate believes police and prosecutors are better equipped than ever to investigate racial crimes and bring them to court. …