Belfast Telegraph

Elderly rioter (64) avoids prison due to his health woes and alcoholism

BY JOHN CASSIDY

A chronic alcoholic dodged a jail sentence for rioting last year at a Twelfth parade after a judge said his case was one with "highly exceptional circumstances''.

James Morrow Dickson (64), of Northland Street, Belfast, was handed a two-year sentence, suspended for two years, after he pleaded guilty to a charge of rioting at Woodvale Road.

Belfast Crown Court heard that during the riot police came under attack from stones, bottles, heavy masonry and fireworks.

Judge Donna McColgan QC was told that 57 petrol bombs were thrown at the PSNI after the return leg of an Orange Order feeder march past Ardoyne shopfronts had been blocked by the Parades Commission.

Prosecution barrister Joseph Murphy said a total of 56 police officers were injured.

The court watched CCTV footage of Dickson approaching police lines dressed in a Manchester United jersey and throwing a missle.

The defendant was then seen retreating holding the right-hand side of his abdomen and falling to the ground.

Mr Murphy said Dickson had been struck by a police baton round.

He was arrested in November last year after police retrieved his medical records following treatment for his injury from the plastic bullet.

"He at first denied being involved, but when he was shown the footage he admitted it was him,'' said Mr Murphy.

"The defendant said he was taking his two daughters home and got caught up in the trouble and couldn't remember much more as he had been drinking.

"He told police that his behaviour was 'disgraceful and shameful', adding: 'I should have more sense by my age'. He apologised to the police for his behaviour.''

A defence solicitor said Dickson had been a chronic alcoholic for 30 years. "He accepts that he did not cover himself in glory on this day. However, he was not an instigator nor an orchestrator.

"He accepts his behaviour was shameful and he only got involved because of his extreme inebriation on this day.''

The solicitor added that along with his alcoholism, Dickson suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, had suffered renal failure in the past, and had suffered blackouts.

"An immediate prison sentence would be exceptionally arduous for him to deal with. He would also lose his Housing Executive home and he would be rendered homeless if he was imprisoned.

"I would ask the court to temper justice with mercy and suspend any prison sentence.''

Judge McCoglan QC told Dickson that if he had fought the case and been found guilty, the court would have jailed him for three years.

In the light of his guilty plea, Dickson was sentenced to two years in prison.

However, the judge said she was treating his case as one of "highly exceptional circumstances'' regarding his health and alcohol dependency.

"In view of the matters that have come to my attention, I am prepared to suspend that sentence in your case for a period of two years,'' added Judge McColgan.

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