Dissident republican councillor who painted Derry's historic walls wins appeal
Dissident republican Gary Donnelly is one of three men who walked free from the Crown Court in Londonderry yesterday after they successfully appealed against a six-month jail sentence.
The term was imposed after they were convicted of causing criminal damage to the city's historic walls by painting political slogans on them.
Mr Donnelly (43), from Iniscairn Road in the Creggan area of the city, was elected to represent the Moor ward in last May's local government elections.
If the original sentence, imposed last November by District Judge Barney McElholm at the Magistrates Court, had been upheld, he would have been disqualified from being a public representative for five years.
At yesterday's appeal hearing against the sentence only, Judge Philip Babington replaced the six-month jail sentence with a conditional discharge for 12 months.
He also ordered Mr Donnelly and his co-appellants, William Brogan (51) from Carmhill and Terry Porter (56) from Racecourse, to pay compensation of £2,600 for the cost of repairs to the walls.
There was cheering and clapping in a packed public gallery after Judge Babington announced his decision. Among those in the courtroom were Fianna Fail TD for Galway West Eamon O'Cuiv and Independent TDs Clare Daly for Dublin North, Maureen O'Sullivan for Dublin Central and Thomas Pringle for Donegal South-West.
A prosecution barrister said that on the evening of February 1 of last year police officers saw men with paint brushes and rollers under a section of the city walls overlooking the Bogside.
The men ran off. Donnelly ran a distance of 20 metres before he was caught and arrested in nearby Nailor's Row.
Brogan fell while trying to escape and sustained a fracture to his right leg and Porter was also arrested following a short chase. All three had flecks of paint on their hands and clothing.
The court was told that the three appellants neither contested nor denied the charge against them when they were convicted of the offence last October.
Mr Donnelly said he was pleased the prosecution process was over.
"We should never have been charged in the first place. It was a complete farce and I now look forward to representing the voters whom I have been elected to represent in the Moor Ward", he said.