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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 20:20 GMT
Row over religious crime figures
Old firm fans
One third of the crimes related to football
The majority of Scotland's religious crime takes place in the west of Scotland with a third linked to football, new statistics have shown.

It also centres around Catholic and Protestant sectarianism and is often fuelled by alcohol, the study revealed.

The justice minister said the research also showed incidents were now being properly recorded and punished.

However, Scotland's Roman Catholic leader said the real truth behind the figures was "blatant anti-Catholicism".

The Scottish Executive report was based on analysis of police reports on 532 cases that occurred between 1 January 2004 and 30 June 2005.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said the review had shown that Scottish courts were making increasing use of the new laws that tackle religious hatred as an aggravated offence.

"Now we can clearly see that crimes motivated by bigotry and religious intolerance are not only being punished, but they are being publicly recorded as the disgrace they are," she said.

I am forced to question the wisdom of numerous high profile initiatives focusing on football clubs
Cardinal Keith O'Brien

"The message is clear - bigots and bullies have no place in a modern Scotland and will be shamed."

Cardinal Keith O'Brien condemned the Scottish Executive's tactics in the battle against religious sectarianism, pointing out the majority of the cases did not relate to either football or parades.

He said: "I am forced to question the wisdom of numerous high profile initiatives focusing on football clubs or the constant marginalisation of sectarianism in Scotland as little more than drink-fuelled, post-match rivalry.

"It is not, poverty, alcohol or football which underpins most cases of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland, but blatant anti-Catholicism."

The majority of cases in the report, (64%), were considered to involve derogatory behaviour towards Roman Catholics, with 31% of cases considered to involve anti-Protestantism

However, researchers said no information was available on the victims' religion and it was therefore not possible to prove members of a particular religion were subjected to these offences.

Population figures

Cardinal Keith O'Brien argued that the figures revealed that Catholics were five times as likely to be subject to a sectarian attack than protestants.

He made the claims by comparing the number of offences with 2001 census figures on the numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestants in Scotland.

The report also showed that a total of 441 people were convicted of charges with a religious aggravation in the 18 months to June 2005.

The vast majority (88%) were for breach of the peace.

Just under a third of the cases studied related to football, 12% related to marches and parades and 45% involved alcohol.

Offences most commonly occurred in the street (28%), football stadiums (19%) and residential areas (15%).

The incidents located in a football stadiums took place either at Celtic Park, Ibrox Stadium (Rangers Football Club), and at Hampden Park (Scotland's national football stadium).

Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 allows the police to add religious prejudice to a charge.

A third of religious crime is linked to football

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