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Suspended jail term after Covenant march

The covenant parade passed through Belfast.

A man accused of drunkenly antagonising nationalist residents during the Ulster Covenant parade in Belfast was given a three-month suspended jail sentence on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012
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James Symington was wearing a Linfield top when police escorted him away from the Donegall Street area in a bid to defuse tensions, a judge was told.

Prosecutors said the 24-year-old, of no fixed address, then started swearing and shouting obscenities at an officer in front of passers-by.

Searches revealed a small plastic bag containing suspected herbal cannabis in his pocket.

Symington pleaded guilty to disorderly behaviour and possession of Class B drugs.

He was arrested by police on duty at the Ulster Covenant centenary parade in the city on 29 September.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard that he appeared to be antagonising a group of nationalist residents in the area.

He also claimed at the time that the drugs found on him were a legal-high given to him by a friend.

Defence barrister Luke Curran said it was normal for his client to be wearing a Linfield top.

He told the court Symington had been turned away from his hostel that day because he had been drinking.

"He wasn't particularly doing anything but police moved him away, partially for his own safety," Mr Curran said.

"Wearing that type of top in the vicinity where that was going on, there was a risk."

District Judge Mervyn Bates said it had been foolish of Symington to behave as he had in that area.

"This was a particularly difficult day police were dealing with in circumstances that were quite volatile, the nature of the parade and the crowd that was gathered from different parts of the city," the judge remarked.

He also told Symington: "What you were wearing was inappropriate in the circumstances of what was going on around you."

Judge Bates imposed three months for the disorderly behaviour and two months concurrent for possession of the drugs.

Both sentences were suspended for two years.

Warning the defendant that he was on the verge of custody, he added: "Just be careful where you are and what you are wearing."

Symington assured him that he would not be back in court.