Strathclyde Telegraph

The Big Interview with Paul McBride QC

 ‘WE NEED TO TACKLE SECTARIANISM HEAD ON’

‘I WON’T BE FORCED TO QUIT’

UNIVERSITY of Strathclyde graduate and top-lawyer Paul McBride QC has spent most of his life defending and fighting for justice.

But battling the ever-growing problem of sectarianism might just be the biggest challenge of his career yet.

In an exclusive interview with the Telegraph, McBride reveals his own personal terror as a victim of sectarian hate and offers his views on how to help stop the problem.

“Everyone has stuck their head in the sand for too long when it comes to sectarianism and religious bigotry,” explained McBride.

“For years, racism and sexism were seen as sociably acceptable then laws were passed and they became unacceptable because law can condition behavior. We have to do that with sectarianism.

“We need to tackle the issue head on by educating people and if people aren’t prepared to accept that, then we need to criminalise them.”

Over the past few months, the Scottish government has announced their plans to bring in tougher laws against sectarianism relating to football.

The bill, to be discussed in parliament in January, is set to include tough new jail sentences and aim to prevent sectarian abuse from football fans in or around Scottish stadiums.

Although, McBride is pleased actions are beginning to finally come into place, he hopes jail terms would only be brought in as a final solution.

He said: “Hopefully prison would be a last resort and I hope enough people would find themselves before the court, either facing a fine or community service that it would deter others.

“My problem is that right now, no one is facing the courts and the passing of this legislation, in itself is sending a powerful message that the issue is being taken seriously.”

And for McBride, the new laws cannot come quick enough, after experiencing the terrible effects of sectarianism, first-hand.

In April of this year, parcel bombs intended for Celtic-supporting McBride and Labour politician Trish Godman, along with club manager, Neil Lennon, were intercepted.

But even though Mcbride still vividly remembers that dramatic day, he has vowed not to let it affect him.

“That day, I came out of court and my phone had been off. I turned it on and I had a full mailbox with messages from police and security services. I contacted them immediately and senior officers of the terrorism unit, informed me that I had been sent a device,” recalled the lawyer.

“We didn’t know at that time what we were dealing with, if it was rogue individuals or something more serious and sinister.

“But I would never quit because of these people. My family were concerned but the truth of the matter is, if someone wants to hurt you, you can’t be on your guard all the time but the police have been brilliant and I feel very well protected and safe.”

In what has infamously become known as ‘Scotland’s Season of Shame’, in March, Celtic boss Lennon was attacked by an opposing fan as his side beat Hearts at Tynecastle.

The 26-year-old man, John Wilson, who attacked Lennon has since appeared in court and been cleared of assault, a decision that has baffled McBride.

“Having been doing jury trials for 25years, you hear verdicts that are surprising, unusual or unexpected but this was the most astonishing verdict I have ever heard,” claimed the Strathclyde University law graduate.

“The accused admitted the crime in the witness box and his own counsel asked for him to be convicted of assault.

“Even leaving those matters aside, we could all see for ourselves – it was on television. So the idea of the jury acquitting him of assault cannot be explained by any legal or non-legal observer”

With new laws set to be introduced into Scottish football, McBride insists it will take nothing out of the game and the changes can only be seen as good.

McBride stated: “People go to grounds to watch football. This bill isn’t designed to take away the atmosphere or passion of a match; it is designed to send the message that sectarian behaviour in Scotland has to be stopped.

“Go to football grounds, enjoy yourself and support your team but for example, those who go to Parkhead and sing about the IRA – who wants to hear about a terrorist organistation at a football match where children are present?

And McBride believes the root of the sectarian problem is that people are willing to sing these abusive songs, even if they have no idea what they are singing about.

“If you stopped a catholic or protestant in the street, educated or not, they probably couldn’t tell you the theological differences between the two religions but yet some will still shout abuse at each other.”

However, even McBride admits he was involved in sectarian singing in his younger days before he learned the true nature of these chants.

“I am educated and have I sung these inappropriate songs? Undoubtedly when I was young, I would utter the words and didn’t know what they meant. Everyone would do it and it meant nothing to us,” confessed McBride.

“But now I know what they mean, I shouldn’t have sung them and now I don’t. That’s not taking the fun out of football, it’s just saying lets move on and leave the violent past behind.”

Looking towards the future, McBride knows the problem of sectarianism will take a few years to solve but certainly believes it can be fixed.

“You never solve any big problem overnight. The starting point is for parliament and society to say this kind of behaviour is wrong. The press can help educate people and there will be a period of time for this to sink into the national psyche.”

But with the new season well and truly underway, it’s clear to see, McBride will be hoping, along with many others, that Scottish football will do all its talking on the pitch.}

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