By Michael MacLeod
OLD Firm football thugs who beat their wives have been slated as “barbaric” by a senior Government minister ahead of Saturday’s potentially explosive SPL title deciding clash at Ibrox.
Communities Minister Alex Neil revealed yesterday that an advertising campaign will be run on TV before, during and after the Rangers v Celtic match being shown live on Setanta specifically targeted to highlight a proven rise in complaints of domestic abuse centred around the Glasgow derby.
Electronic advertising hoardings around the perimeter of the pitch at Rangers ground Ibrox hosting the match will also carry the message: ‘There’s no excuse for domestic abuse’.
MSP Neil revealed that shameful domestic abuse attacks jumped by a staggering 88 per-cent to 231 cases on the last Old Firm matchday in March, sparking demands from police to the Scottish Government that ‘something has to be done.’
And Mr Neil, unveiling a new report yesterday, admitted he worries for the wives and partners of drunken football yobs.
He said: “We are doing extra this weekend around the Old Firm game because we have very clear evidence that around the game there is an increase in domestic abuse, particularly in the West coast.
“We are deliberately segmenting the message to men and women before and after the game. There’s absolutely nothing worse than for a woman to live in fear of her partner and we take a zero tolerance approach to violence against women, especially drunken violence.
“This is the 21st Century, Scotland is a modern nation and it is absolutely barbaric to engage in domestic abuse, which is one of the worst forms of violence in our society.”
The move to bring in pitch-side advertising of a domestic abuse helpline comes after a senior police officer said complaints of such violence surged on the day and night after Old Firm showdowns.
With his force also having to deal with rising numbers of attempted murders and assaults, Assistant Chief Constable John Neilson of Strathclyde Police called for more help from the Scottish Government.
He said: “I want people to know this is happening across the whole of Strathclyde and that something has to be done.
“This is the real picture of alcohol-fuelled violence when there is a game of football on – and there is absolutely no excuse for this level of violence.”
The adverts on Setanta, backed by Mr Neilson’s force, will carry the Scottish Domestic Abuse helpline number.
Liz Kelly, who trains volunteers to take calls on the helpline, wants women to know they are there to do more than just lend an ear to victims of violence.
She said: “Recognising the distress felt by many women and the often limited credit in phones, we try to make initial contact with appropriate services on their behalf.
“These women are often frightened and at the end of their tether, and often call a good few days, weeks or even years after the event.
“Breaking free from abuse can be a long lonely road but we can make it easier.”
The helpline received over 15,000 last year, with volunteers making an additional 6,000 calls on behalf of terrified abuse victims for emergency housing, legal services or to the police.
Mr Neil’s comments came as he unveiled the Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline annual report in Edinburgh today which showed some 15,000 calls were taken in 2008.
The 60 strong team of helpline volunteers made a further 6000 calls to other agencies on behalf of those in contact with them, including refuge, housing and police requests.
Most calls came from the Glasgow area (2736) – more than double the number taken in Edinburgh (1085), North Ayrshire (1110) and South Lanarkshire (1424).
Most calls (85%) were from women, seven per cent from men and one per cent from children.
The Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0800 027 1234
Further information can be obtained at www.domesticabuse.co.uk.