SINGING just two lines of the notorious "Famine Song" amounts to racism, a court has ruled in a landmark case.
At Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on Wednesday, a 20-year-old Rangers fan was found guilty of committing a breach of the peace - aggravated by religious and racial prejudice - during Rangers 4-0 victory over Killie on November 9.
And procurator fiscal Les Brown successfully argued that by singing the lines "The famine’s over, why don’t you go home?" William Walls, of Glasgow, had associated himself with other, more offensive elements of the song.
Walls, who had denied the offence, was remanded in custody until December 16 for social enquiry and community service reports.
During the trial, Sheriff Iona McDonald heard that Walls was seen singing the chorus of the song and other offensive remarks during the game by stewards employed by Rangers FC.
Nicola Tait, 24, said that one of her tasks was to monitor the Rangers support for sectarian behaviour, including the singing of the "Famine Song".
"The ‘Famine Song’ is one song that is not tolerated by Rangers," she told the court.
Miss Tait – a club steward for the last three years – said that her instructions were to take the seat numbers of those guilty of sectarian behaviour and report them to Rangers for further action.
Walls, she said, was seen on a number of occasions in the first and second halves standing up and singing.
He did this particularly when other fans had stopped singing the song, in an effort to get them to continue.
"He was up and down out his seat every two minutes," said Miss Tait. "He had been asked to sit down a few times by another steward."
She had reported his seat number at half-time and later saw him being escorted up the stairs by another steward and two police officers.
Fellow Rangers steward Michael Rennie, 38, also identified Walls as singing the two best-known lines of the "Famine Song".
He was also "constantly in the aisle", singing the song.
Two friends of Walls, who were at the game denied that their pal had sung the "Famine Song" or made any other sectarian comments.
Both claimed that the "Famine Song" had been sung by only a "small minority" of Rangers fans – in contrast to the evidence of stewards that as many as 90 per cent of the Rangers support in Rugby Park’s Moffat stand had taken part.
Under cross-examination by Mr Brown, one defence witness – David Hopkins, 25, of Glasgow – admitted that he had previously been banned from Ibrox, Hampden and Celtic Park.
Addressing Sheriff McDonald, Mr Brown argued that while it was accepted that, at most, Walls had sung only two lines of the "Famine Song", it would be clear to the majority of those there that it was "telling people from Ireland to go home".
"That, in itself, is a racist sentiment," he said.
By contrast, Bob McDowall, defending, argued that that would require a "quantum leap" by the court.
"Evidence is led that one or two lines are used and it is implied that the rest of the song is meant," he said. "Says who?"
Mr McDowall described the case as "novel" and "a very serious matter".
"Ireland and the Irish are not mentioned in that stanza," he pointed out.
Earlier Sheriff McDonald rejected a defence submission that there was no case to answer on the ground that the description of Walls’s conduct given in evidence could not amount to a breach of the peace.
Finding Walls guilty, Sheriff McDonald told him that "given the whole context" his conduct was "likely to be generally alarming and very disturbing to others".
After the verdict, Mr Brown revealed that the accused’s record included previous convictions for a breach of the peace with a football aggravation and for an offence with racial aggravations.