Defending the rioters costs taxpayers over £34,000
Over £30,000 of taxpayers' money was spent defending the thugs responsible for some of the worst rioting seen on the streets of Belfast, it has emerged.
Twenty-six suspects who appeared in court in connection with violence which erupted at the Ardoyne interface in north Belfast last year were all granted legal aid. All pleaded guilty.
The bill has already topped £34,000 and is likely to rise - sparking fresh calls for a review of the way Northern Ireland's legal aid system operates.
More than 80 PSNI officers were injured during the serious violence which flared around last year's Twelfth of July events.
Gangs including children as young as eight used petrol bombs, bricks and bottles to wreak havoc.
A shotgun was fired at police, masonry was dropped on officers and bullets were aimed at PSNI lines. The cost of policing the disorder ran to millions of pounds.
Police later used CCTV images to arrest and prosecute suspects, with 26 appearing in court so far.
And it has emerged they were granted thousands of pounds in legal aid.
DUP MLA Lord Morrow, who discovered the expenditure through an Assembly question, called for legal aid costs in criminal cases to be recouped from defendants who are subsequently convicted in court.
"I asked the Justice Minister (David Ford) how much the legal aid bill was for those prosecuted for rioting and related offences during that period last year," Lord Morrow said. "I learned all 26 men charged were granted legal aid at a cost of £34,126.96 - and that figure will increase as those convicted have not yet been sentenced. This means the taxpayer has paid for the policing, the clear-up and repair of damage caused by rioters, and once arrested they get their legal costs covered too.
"No doubt if they were to bear the costs of their behaviour they would be less inclined to create such havoc."
Lord Morrow said it is time that costs such as legal aid are built into fines and sentences.
"Justice can provide no deterrent if it continues to assist offenders to this degree," he added.
Northern Ireland's legal aid bill is currently running at around £100m a year.
Story so far
Riots erupted in various parts of Belfast in July last year as nationalists protested against a number of Orange Order parades. Police were attacked with petrol bombs and a female officer was struck by a lump of masonry. More than 80 officers were injured and more than 40 people were arrested in the weeks following the trouble. Twenty-six people have since appeared in court.