Seventeen cleared over Ardoyne protest

Published Tuesday, 21 January 2014
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Seventeen men have been acquitted of staging an unlawful protest during a loyal order march in north Belfast.

Seventeen cleared over Ardoyne protest
The men were all cleared on Tuesday. (© UTV)

A judge dismissed the case against them on Tuesday after being told they had simply gathered in Ardoyne to watch the parade.

The defendants have now vowed to sue the police and the Public Prosecution Service for allegedly breaching their right to assembly.

They appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court charged with taking part in an un-notified protest on 1 December, 2012.

It was alleged that their actions during an Apprentice Boys parade amounted to a breach of public processions legislation.

Even though no placards or signs were on display, a prosecution lawyer contended that by lining up and facing the road they were staging a form of demonstration.

Only members of the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents' Association (CARA) had notified the Parades Commission of its plans to stage a protest in the area.

But it was submitted that the defendants' acted separately on the day.

Appearing in court on a summons were:

  • Paul Carson, 49, of Highbury Gardens, Belfast;
  • Aiden Ferguson, 33, of Highbury Gardens Belfast;
  • Damien Fennell, 31, of Duneden Park, Belfast;
  • Gerard Lagan, 52, of Butler Walk, Belfast;
  • Peter Lagan, 53, of Jamaica Street, Belfast;
  • Daniel Lundy, 32, of Russell Place, Belfast ;
  • Joseph Montgomery, 19, of Rosehead, Belfast;
  • Joseph Jude Montgomery, 45, of Rosehead, Belfast;
  • Kevin Clarke, 34, of Saunderson Court, Belfast;
  • James Osborne, 20, of Prospect Park, Belfast;
  • Kevin Collins, 35, of Church Fields, Rasharkin, Co Antrim;
  • Daniel Doherty, 21, of Bamford Park, Rasharkin, Co Antrim;
  • John Doherty, 28, of Bamford Park, Rasharkin, Co Antrim;
  • Sean Hanna, 50, of Carnfinton Park, Rasharkin, Co Antrim;
  • Brendan Kelly, 21, of Carnfinton Park - all in Rasharkin, Co Antrim;
  • Anthony Lee, 38, of Fisherwick Crescent, Ballymena;
  • Micheal McLaughlan, 52, of Fisherwick Crescent, Ballymena.

A prosecutor claimed some of them were recognised by police as having previously been at the scene with a separate organisation: the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).

He argued that their behaviour, while silent and peaceful, was still a form of protest.

Some of the defendants told police they were waiting for a bus, but failed to board one when it stopped at the scene, the court heard.

With video footage of the incident played in court, defence lawyers argued the men were entitled to stand on a footpath and observe the parade.

All seventeen defendants declined to give any evidence at the hearing.

But ruling on the case on Tuesday, District Judge George Conner held that it had not reached the criminal standard of establishing guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.

On that basis, the charge against each of the men was dismissed.

Jubilant defendants clapped and cheered in court as they were acquitted before turning their attention to possible civil action.

Mr Fennell, a spokesman for GARC, claimed: "There was absolutely no evidence of any protest. This was a political show trial because of our perceived beliefs."

He said people from Ardoyne and Rasharkin had been subjected to sectarian parades and were entitled to observe the Apprentice Boys march for any breaches of Parades Commissions determinations.

Mr Fennell also pledged: "As a result of this each of the defendants is going to be taking a civil case against the PSNI and PPS. This trial was an attempt to impinge on our human right to assembly in our area."

A solicitor for some of the defendants later confirmed their plans to sue.

Darragh Makin, of KRW Law, said: "This is an example of very wide legislation being used by the police and the prosecution in an in appropriate and arbitrary way.

"We will now be taking civil actions against the relevant authorities for violating our clients' human rights."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
26 Comments
belfastwhite in Belfast wrote (310 days ago):
All I can say is, if these people were brought before the courts after watching the video evidence, our jails are going to be full. There have been numerous cases of illegal parades and protests by loyalists including thousands who attending an illegal protest all caught on CCTV in Royal Avenue blocking a legal parade. However this seems to be a case were the PSNI and PPS tried to balance the conviction rate of loyalist and nationalist protesters appearing before the courts on charges relating to parades and protests. I think these men have a good case against the PPS/PSNI who once again have been shown to have political motives and a complete laughing stock.
The Street in wrote (311 days ago):
The judge is a joke,he believes know republicans went to watch an Apprentice Boys parade,others where waiting for a bus. Had they been loyalists he would have jailed them.One law for republicans and one for loyalists.
petand in Londonderry wrote (311 days ago):
I find it reprehensible that the Press, including UTV, should be allowed to print the names and addresses of these men. They have been found innocent but there are still a lot of trigger happy loonies out there who would still weant to take issue with them. This is NOT a normal society and I feel that these men have been put at risk. The same goes for people on the loyalist side who have had their names and addresses published when they are found innocent.
Aaron in Belfast wrote (311 days ago):
Hang on I don't understand this! They came from Ballymena and Rasharkin but aren't illegally protesting? So we can assume then that parades are cross community and the Republicans really don't mind parades after all. So there should be absolutely no problem in allowing the (not even 5 minute) "12th" parade past and be done with the whole thing.
pip in belfast wrote (311 days ago):
wonder what the outcome would have been if it was loyalists
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