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Birdie Song football ban fans' parents urge him to cite Afghan war trauma and appeal his sentence

By Cate McCurry

Published 07/01/2016

Northern Ireland fan James Burns
Northern Ireland fan James Burns

The parents of a football fan fined for a pitch-side performance of the Birdie Song at Windsor Park during a Northern Ireland game have urged him to appeal his sentence.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that James Burns is an Afghanistan veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The 24-year-old Newtownabbey man was convicted in court and agreed to stay away from Windsor Park matches for a year to avoid jail.

However, his dad Ed said he was unfairly treated and that his PTSD should have been taken into account in the sentencing.

He also accused the court of using "a sledgehammer to crack an egg".

A former Royal Irish soldier said the punishment, which saw Mr Burns fined £250 and bound over to keep the peace in the sum of £750, was "setting him to fail" because of his PTSD.

Andy Allen, who lost both legs in the Afghanistan war, said it was very hard for people with PTSD to integrate into society.

"Anything from large crowds to different level of noise can result in a frightened reaction," he added.

"James is bound over to keep the peace, but was he being aggressive? I find that peculiar. In a sense it could be setting him up to fail because of his PTSD.

"If PTSD is the underlying factor, that should be taken into account in the court's sentencing."

Former Northern Ireland football international Gerry Armstrong said that he had plenty of sympathy for the Afghanistan veteran.

He added: "What he has been through should be taken into consideration, and while you don't want people encroaching on the playing area, I hope he has learned a lesson and hopefully he can return to Windsor Park and cheer on Northern Ireland again."

Ed Burns, who has campaigned for better help for victims of PTSD, said the incident should have been dealt with by the IFA. "It was bad enough being ejected from the stadium that time, but he then spent a night in custody," he added.

"The army turned their back on my son. He got no pension, no medical, no treatment, no package - nothing.

"Since he was discharged, his life has not been good. He's on heavy medication every day. It's the family who pay the price.

"It's not easy living with PTSD, and definitely a direct result of what he experienced in the Army.

"I am advising James to appeal this, because it's not right."

Doug Beattie, a former Royal Irish Regiment captain, believes that more should be done to help war veterans with mental health problems.

He said that support programmes were not widely known about in Northern Ireland.

"Veterans' mental health programmes are not advertised enough and we don't have openness here," he added.

"James probably hasn't got support because he doesn't know where to get it. If he appeals it and says he is getting support, the judge would need to take that into account."

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