Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Twelfth of July rioter's memory was 'wiped in coma'

Riot police prepare to confront loyalist protesters in the Woodvale area of north Belfast (AP)
Riot police prepare to confront loyalist protesters in the Woodvale area of north Belfast (AP)

A man was jailed today for rioting twice in Belfast after claiming his memory had been wiped from being in a coma.

Thomas Johnston received a three-month prison sentence over his involvement in two separate outbreaks of disorder in the city last year.

Even though the 33-year-old pleaded guilty to two counts of riotous behaviour he told police he had no recollection of the events.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard his severe memory loss was a consequence of a drug overdose which plunged him into a coma doctors feared he would never recover from.

Johnston, of Mayo Court in the city, was seen filming and remonstrating with police in the Woodvale area on July 12.

Trouble flared in the area after an Orange Order parade was prohibited from returning past the nationalist Ardoyne district.

Prosecutors said he was seen smashing a house brick on the road, lifting half and advancing towards police lines.

CCTV footage of the incident was disrupted by the deployment of a water canon.

Johnston was again spotted throwing a missile at police during disorder at North Street and Royal Avenue on August 9.

Defence solicitor Matthew Higgins told the court his client was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who has suffered chronic drug and alcohol addiction.

"He doesn't remember what he threw," Mr Higgins insisted.

"He has suffered from brain damage and was in a coma for six days in April. Since then his memory has been very bad."

The solicitor revealed the state of unconsciousness was due to an accidental overdose.

"Doctors suggested to the family they turn off the machines. This was extremely serious," he said.

Despite this Johnston admitted the charges based on the available evidence.

Mr Higgins argued that the defendant was not at the centre of any riot situation.

District Judge Rosalie Prytherch acknowledged Johnston's health problems.

But expressing concern at his involvement in two separate episodes of rioting, she imposed a two month jail sentence for the July incident and a further month for his role in the August outbreak.

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