Three men who admitted involvement in serious rioting at the notorious interface of the Ardoyne shop fronts on July 12th last year were today handed custodial sentences totalling seven and a half years.
Sentencing the three at Belfast Crown Court, the Recorder of Belfast Judge David McFarland said it was particularly important to note since the marching season was just beginning that anyone who involves themselves in a riot, "except in the most exceptional circumstances," will go to prison.
He told Paul Faulkner, Brian Gavin and Daniel Neill they may wish to reflect on the fact that the instigators and organisers were rarely before the courts and instead "stand back and allow you, literally, as cannon fodder to become involved".
Earlier he heard how police came under attack from rioting crowds in the area of the Ardoyne shop fronts, Twadell Avenue and Brompton Park following the annual 12th July Orange Order march.
Prosecuting lawyer Philip Henry described how crowds of up to 150 on either side of the divide attacked police, throwing various missiles including bricks, bottles, masonry and stones but also that a pipe bomb and ten live rounds were fired from a "high velocity semi automatic rifle".
In total, he told the court, 23 officers were injured during nine hours of rioting which caused £15,500 of damage to police equipment and cost £204,000 to police.
Turning to the roles of each of the defendants, Mr Henry said both 19-year-old Gavin, from Woodside Park in Dunmurry and Neill (20) from Newington Street in Belfast, were described by police as being 'prolific offenders' in the riot.
Gavin, he told the court, tried to hide his face with a scarf but it slipped down a number of times and he was able to be identified from CCTV footage, throwing bricks and other similar missiles for around a four hour period and was also part of a group who tried to push a hijacked car at police lines.
He pleaded guilty to riot and causing criminal damage by arson.
Mr Henry said Neill had tried to hide his face by pulling his hoodie over his head but that he was also seen throwing numerous missiles and a firework at police and also throwing a burning piece of wood into the back of an already burning Citreon car.
He pleaded guilty to offences of riot and arson.
He conceded that 31-year-old Faulker, from Queens Parade in Belfast, was at the lower end of the scale compared to his co-accused in that he only threw two stones at police and later pleaded guilty to a single charge of riot.
Sentencing the trio, Judge McFarland handed Faulkner a two year jail term, Neill a term of two and a half years and Gavin a three year term, ordering that each of the three serve half their sentences in custody and half on licence.