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Flying Vatican flag in a ‘provocative manner’ could be a criminal act, say Scottish police

Pilgrims in Glasgow fly the Vatican flag before the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 (Getty Images)

Flying the Vatican flag could be a criminal offence if done so in a “provocative manner”, according to a document by Scotland’s police force.

The “restricted” document, obtained by the Scottish Herald on Sunday, lists the flag along with several other potentially criminal symbols. Other flags on the list include Israel, Palestine, the Irish tricolour, the Catalan Senyera and the Basque Ikurriña.

The document states: “Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000.”

They could even violate the Terrorism Act if altered to include the name of a proscribed organisation.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church told the Scottish Catholic Observer: “It would be very concerning if the Vatican flag was in any circumstance deemed offensive.

“It has been flown proudly in Scotland on the occasion of two Papal visits without upset or incident and its use should not be restricted in any way.”

Police Scotland declined to discuss specific examples of criminal flag displays, but Chief Superintendent John McKenzie said: “Often flags themselves are not the issue but the criminal conduct that accompanies them is.

“This could include, but is not limited to, threatening gestures or words, or flags being amended to show support for a proscribed terrorist group or amendments which constitute a hate crime.”

A Scottish Government spokesman told the Scottish Catholic Observer: “It is not an offence to fly the flag of the Vatican or any other country.”