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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 November, 2004, 16:33 GMT
Church concern at bigotry report
Mass - generic
The Catholic Church said hostility remains
The Catholic Church in Scotland has expressed dismay at figures showing that its members were more likely to suffer sectarian abuse.

A Crown Office study of prosecutions under new anti-sectarianism legislation found that in 63% of cases the victims were Catholic.

This compared with 29% of victims who were Protestants, 1% who were Jews and 1% targeted because they were Muslim.

MSPs said hostility existed on all sides and called for better education.

The Crown Office carried out a study into prosecutions in June to December 2003, following the introduction of Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.

This made provision for the prosecution of offenders for religious prejudice.

There is hostility both ways. I think it would help if people on both sides of the conflict, or some of them, went to church and discovered what Christianity is all about
Donald Gorrie
Liberal Democrat MSP
There were 450 charges which included the religious aggravation element submitted to the procurators fiscal by police during that time.

In 68 of the 108 prosecutions considered for the study the victims were Catholic and 31 were Protestant. There were single prosecutions for bigotry against victims who were described in the study as Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

A Crown Office spokesman stressed: "The research is a snapshot and you could not identify trends from it. In order to identify trends further research would be required."

'Alarming and saddening'

But the study has caused concern for Catholic Church leaders and Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell, said it indicates "entrenched hostility towards a religious minority".

He said: "These figures are frankly appalling. That at least one religiously-motivated offence should take place in Scotland every day is bad enough, that almost two thirds of such crimes are directed against the Catholic community who comprise just 17% of the population is both alarming and saddening.

"These figures unfortunately paint a picture of a country where entrenched hostility towards a religious minority, which many felt had long since disappeared, clearly remains and flourishes."

Speaking on the BBC's Politics Show, politicians called for better education geared at breaking down barriers.

Michael McMahon
If Catholics make up only one fifth of the population, according to those statistics they are guilty of one third of the offences
Michael McMahon
Labour MSP
Donald Gorrie, Liberal Democrat MSP for Central Scotland, who has championed anti-sectarianism legislation at Holyrood, said: "There is hostility both ways. I think it would help if people on both sides of the conflict, or some of them, went to church and discovered what Christianity is all about.

"It is not about hating people, it's about loving people and getting on with people. So perhaps we should have a movement which gets more of these people back to church as part of an educational system."

Labour MSP Michael McMahon said he agreed that there was "entrenched hostility" towards Catholics among "certain sections of the community" in Scotland.

He said: "There are certain sections of the community for whatever reason, probably based on ignorance or fear, who believe that the Catholic community has historically been a threat.

"That's the type of ignorance that we have to break down."

However, both MSPs stressed that the figures could be read in a number of ways.

'Religious intolerance'

Mr McMahon said: "If Catholics make up only one fifth of the population, according to those statistics they are guilty of one third of the offences.

"Is that a case that the Catholic community is more at fault here or is it the case that the policing methods being adopted are creating statistics that allow that question to be asked?"

The Muslim Assocation of Britain questioned the credibility of the statistics.

Scottish Spokesperson, Osama Saeed, said: "These figures aren't even barely credible. There will be hardly a Muslim in the land who hasn't experience of being taunted with shouts of 'Bin Laden' or 'terrorist' in the street.

"For too many the experience has gone further with physical acts of violence against them.

"If, as I suspect, the Muslim community are simply not coming forward to report the abuse they are receiving due to poor relations with authorities, then this has to be remedied urgently."

Morag McLaughlin, head of policy for the Crown Office, said: "We did this review to try to identify if there was anything that would merit further investigation. These are observations from that review.

"We were interested in which groups were being targeted by sectarian abuse and where it was happening."

The Scottish Executive said the prosecutions showed that Scotland would no longer tolerate bigotry.

A spokesman said: "The executive is committed to addressing sectarianism and religious intolerance, wherever it occurs and whomever its victim."

Education hope over sectarianism
26 Apr 04 |  Scotland
Party studies anti-sectarian model
25 Sep 03 |  Northern Ireland
Schools' anti-bigotry lesson
05 Dec 03 |  Scotland

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