Flag protester Jamie Bryson can stay out later to play footfall - judge rules
Leading union flag protester Jamie Bryson can stay out later at night to help his football team's end of season push for success, a judge ruled today.
A curfew imposed on the Ulster Peoples' Forum spokesman is to be temporarily relaxed so he can play in two matches for amateur side 1st Bangor FC.
Senior police had opposed the move due to his alleged influence over other young people.
Bryson (23) of Rosepark, Donaghadee, Co Down, is on bail charged with offences connected to the controversy over restricting the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.
They involve allegations of encouraging or assisting offences, and taking part in an unnotified public procession.
Bryson was released from custody last month on tight conditions, including a ban on being within four miles of City Hall except for court appearances.
He must not take part in protests either, give speeches or make comment on social media before during or after any protests about the flag dispute.
Last week he failed in a bid to be allowed to attend an Ulster Volunteer Force centenary parade in east Belfast.
He returned to court today seeking to have his 8pm curfew varied for two of his side's final matches.
Belfast Magistrates' Court heard the team is well placed going into the last part of the season.
Defence barrister Richard McConkey stressed: "It's an entirely sporting matter.
"The position is Mr Bryson plays amateur football for 1st Bangor, there are effectively three fixtures remaining and the application is simply to allow an extension of his curfew for tonight and next Tuesday to allow him to participate in both.
"The matches are kicking off at 7pm and Mr Bryson is very concerned he would be in breach of his bail."
Objecting to the application, a PSNI officer told the court she had received directions from senior police.
"Police recognise it's a sporting event and not associated with the flag dispute, but police believe the defendant has an influential role over other young people."
District Judge John Meehan pointed to the potential impact on others.
"You are removing somebody from a team. Did the senior officer consider that?" he asked.
Granting the application, Judge Meehan ordered the curfew to be relaxed until 9.30pm for the two matches.
Appearing alongside Bryson in the dock was another high-profile flag protester, Jim Dowson.
The 48-year-old, of The Burn Road, Comber, faces charges of encouraging or assisting offenders and taking part in an unnotified public procession.
Updating the court on both men's cases, a prosecution lawyer sought another six weeks to allow ongoing evidence gathering.
Dowson's solicitor expressed surprise at the situation, telling the court police had claimed to have the evidence to charge his client.
Both men's cases were adjourned until June.