TWO senior officials at the British Fireworks Association (BFA) have blamed the dramatic rise in pyrotechnic use in Scottish football on a failure to punish offenders appropriately and warned the problem will only be addressed by introducing a meaningful deterrent.

Steve Raper, the BFA chairman, and Fraser Stevenson, the vice-chairman of an organisation which represents the fireworks industry, have been unsurprised to see numerous flashpoints involving flares, smoke bombs, strobes and rockets when Scottish teams have played this season.

The cinch Premiership match between Rangers and Dundee at Dens Park earlier this month was suspended shortly after it kicked off when fire alarms were triggered by flares which were set off by travelling supporters in the Bob Shankly Stand.

Glasgow Times: Raith Rovers launched an investigation at the weekend after one of their fans was struck and burned by a lit flare which was thrown by an away supporter at their Scottish Cup match against their Fife rivals Dunfermline at East End Park on Friday night.   

Elsewhere, Celtic this month cited the pyrotechnics display which The Green Brigade staged at their Champions League match against Feyenoord in Rotterdam in September as one of the reasons they had banned the ultras group from Parkhead.

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Talks involving representatives of the SFA, the SPFL, the Scottish government, the Football Safety Officers Association as well as Police Scotland were held at Hampden last week in response to the growing trend and a coordinated action plan is set to be drawn up following the discussions.

The BFA opposed the Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Articles (Scotland) Act - legislation that gave Police Scotland officers the power to search anyone they felt might be carrying a pyrotechnic outside of a stadium without warrant - ­which MSPs at Holyrood passed last year.

Both Raper and Stevenson believe the high-profile incidents which have taken place in grounds across Scotland and further afield during the past four months prove that the act has been completely ineffective.

Glasgow Times: They are convinced that pyrotechnic use by fans at games will only be extinguished if far stiffer punishments, including heavier fines and longer football banning orders, start being handed out to offenders going forward.  

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“I was very surprised that the fireworks industry was not invited to take part in the talks because we are the experts on this,” said Raper. “We are aware of where things can go right and where they can go wrong.

“When Holyrood were drawing up their firework legislation, we didn’t just go to the Scottish government and say, ‘This won’t work’. No, we gave them solutions. But they told us they weren’t going to follow our advice.

“We have seen a real reluctance to prosecute anyone north of the border for breaking the law, laws which already existed, in recent years. But the Scottish government decided to go out and create even more laws anyway.

“My view on this is it is a football stadium where you go to watch football. There should be no flares, no smoke, no bangs, no cracks, no nothing. If you are found to have one in your possession you should be banned for a year, banned for life even. For me, there is no deterrent at the moment.

“If you have got somebody at a football match who is waving around a flare that burns for 90 seconds then his hands are going to be covered in green or red or blue dye because that is what these things give off. 

“If you identify him, grab him and ban him, his mates are not going to do the same thing in the following match. If you get the deterrent right, it works. But there is no deterrent as things stand. It is a crazy situation up in Scotland.”

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Stevenson agreed: “Currently the misuse of fireworks, which includes pyrotechnics, in Scotland carries a maximum fine of £5,000 and up to six months in prison. But the average fine currently issued in Scotland is £147.

“If you are, say, a Celtic fan and you want to take a green smoke bomb in to Parkhead, you know the worst that is going to happen is you are only going to get fined £150. Where is the deterrent in that? There is none. 

“I was on the working group for the legislation. That was one of the things we said. We said, ‘Look you really need to get to grips with the deterrent factor. You need to get away from £147 fines. You need to send out a clear message to people that this will not be tolerated’.

Glasgow Times: “What happens in football stadiums is the wilful misuse of pyrotechnics. It is not somebody not knowing that there is a curfew at 11pm and setting a firework off at midnight. No, it is wilful misuse. What we have said to them is that they have to send out a message that the wilful misuse of any pyrotechnic will not be tolerated.

“But in that working group there were numerous people who said, ‘But we don’t want to criminalise these people’. So how are they going to sort this if they don’t want to criminalise offenders? I don’t know how they are going to do to it.

“The Scottish government seemed to think that giving the police the powers to stop and search people in the street would make a huge difference. But since the legislation has been introduced, the number of fireworks confiscated by police in Scotland in stop and searches has totalled 11.”

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He added: “The fact that people are having a conversation about what can be done about pyrotechnics in football highlights that the legislation the authorities called for and rushed through at Holyrood is not working.

“As I say, the industry warned the Scottish government about this. We sat with the minister concerned and said, ‘It is not going to work, it is not going to make any difference’. But the police told the justice committee it would solve the problem and we got told, ‘Well, you would say that’.

“Until they start making a real example of people for wilful misuse of fireworks at football stadiums and giving people, say, a £2,000 fine and two month suspended prison sentence, they will carry on doing it.”

Glasgow Times: