Bandsmen accused of parades breach
The case against six loyalist bandsmen accused of breaching a Parades Commission determination could take almost a week to contest, a court has heard.
Belfast Magistrates' Court was told prosecutors would have to trawl through hours of CCTV footage relating to the alleged offences which occurred close to a sectarian flashpoint in north Belfast earlier this year.
Barrister Joel Lindsay, representing all six of the defendants who are affiliated to the Pride of the Ardoyne Flute Band, said: "I would imagine it could take four or five days."
There was a significant police presence for the hearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court, with riot squad officers deployed outside the building.
The accused, all from Belfast, are: James Cosby, 25, from Glenbryn Parade; Neil Jamison, 25, from Summer Street; David Johnstone, 23, from Westway Crescent; David John Murphy, 37, from Berwick Road; Robert Hayes Spence, 57, from Alliance Road; and Gary Edwin Wells, 24, of Loughview Close.
All six face charges of failing to comply with conditions imposed by the 1998 Public Processions Act by playing music between the junction of Twaddell Avenue and Woodvale Drive and the dispersal point at the junction of Twaddell Avenue and Crumlin Road during parades on a range of different dates between February and May.
District Judge Des Perry said he hoped some "common ground" could be found between the defence and prosecutors which could reduce the length of time for the contest early next year.
Judge Perry said: "The best we can hope for is that when I have the draft from the defence is that there is common ground."
Legal aid was granted to four of the accused, who the court was told, are in receipt of benefits.
Adjourning the case until next month, Judge Perry added: "The defendants do not have to be here.
"They can be here if they wish but, in reality, on December 18 relatively little is going to happen."
Loyalists have staged almost weekly protest parades at Twaddell Avenue after the Parades Commission - the body set up under the Good Friday Agreement to rule on contentious parades - barred Orangemen from marching on a contested stretch of the Crumlin Road which passes the nationalist Ardoyne area.
While there was no trouble this summer when police halted the parade from proceeding further than Twaddell Avenue in the adjacent unionist Woodvale area, last year loyalists rioted for a number of successive nights after the procession was stopped.
In previous years, republicans engaged in serious disorder in Ardoyne when the Parades Commission permitted the Orangemen to complete their return journey along the Crumlin Road.
Loyalists have also manned a protest camp close to the Ardoyne/Twaddell Avenue interface since July 2013. The total cost of policing the camp for the last 15 months is in excess of £12 million.
The six bandsmen were accompanied to court by a large crowd of more than 100 people including high-profile east Belfast community worker Jim Wilson, the victims' campaigner Willie Frazer and Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leader Billy Hutchinson.
Councillors Julie-Anne Corr from the PUP as well as Democratic Unionists Brian Kingston and Lee Reynolds were also present for the hearing.
Graffiti reading "pathway to corruption" and "loyalty a crime in a corrupt democracy" was daubed on the footpath outside the Laganside complex.
As the supporters left court, some directed sectarian abuse at two men who were given police protection until the crowd dispersed. However, there was no violence.
Afterwards, Lee Reynolds from the DUP branded the case a waste of money.
He said: "It is an absolute disgrace. It is a waste of police time, it is a waste of PPS (Public Prosecution Service) time and public money.
"This is a complete and utter waste of time and effort. In the Ardoyne area we have armed men running around with newly developed rockets; we have impunity as they fire shots over coffins; there are huge riots organised year after year and somehow the PPS thinks the priority for our legal system should be somebody playing a flute and hitting a drum.
"It is quite simply, disgraceful."
Mr Reynolds also claimed a significant number of working class protestants had lost faith in the judicial system.
He added: "It has further damaged the relationship between the loyalist community, the PSNI and the PPS."
The case will be heard again on December 18.