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Football fan banned over Birdie Song is Afghan war vet

Northern Ireland fan was finedover pitch-side performance at Windsor Park

By Lesley Houston and Alan Erwin

Published 06/01/2016

Northern Ireland fan James Burns
Northern Ireland fan James Burns

A Northern Ireland football fan who was fined for giving a pitch-side performance of the Birdie Song at Windsor Park is an Afghanistan veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can be revealed.

James Burns, who returned home from the war in 2011 needing daily medication for the stress disorder, yesterday pledged to stay away from all home international matches for the next 12 months after he strayed into an area prohibited to spectators during a match in November.

The 24-year-old, from Newtownabbey, consented to being bound over to keep the peace with the year-long prohibition, for his actions during the friendly fixture against Latvia.

Burns was also fined £250 plus a £15 offender levy.

Yesterday his parents described the fine as "too harsh" for someone who has been "left to suffer without any help, after serving his country".

His father Ed Burns, who has campaigned in recent years for better help for victims of PTSD, vowed to continue his efforts, not just for his son but for all those left with mental health problems after serving in war zones.

His mother Sandra said their son was one of the youngest soldiers from Northern Ireland to serve in Afghanistan when he was just 19, and has been left vulnerable and unable to work due to his traumatic experience.

The family has the support of Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who said people "shouldn't rush to judge people like James".

Belfast Magistrates court yesterday heard that prosecutors had been seeking a football banning order which would have seen Burns, of Hydepark Manor, excluded from all regulated games in Northern Ireland for up to five years.

Burns admitted unlawfully going onto an area where spectators are not allowed during a match and was charged after CCTV footage of the incident was obtained.

Despite accepting the offence, Burns contested a banning order.

Defence barrister Declan Quinn argued that his actions did not meet the legislative test for such a sentence.

Mr Quinn also claimed Burns' behaviour did not amount to disorder.

District Judge Liam McNally held that the defendant's pitch side actions could amount to a form of interference.

But he refused to impose a banning order, ruling that it was not necessary for preventing future violence or disorder. Instead, Burns was bound over to keep the peace in the sum of £750.

It includes a specific undertaking not to attend Windsor Park for any international friendly or competitive games at which a Northern Ireland team is playing for a period of one year.

Burns could have faced 14 days in custody, had he withheld consent. Speaking after the court case, Ed Burns said his son was dealt with much too harshly.

"I believe they've got it all wrong," he said and questioned the nature of the charge itself.

"Is it trespassing? Because it wasn't disorderly," he asked.

Mrs Burns said her son was "a very gentle person" despite his large stature and that "all he ever wanted to be from 10 years old was a soldier".

"You could understand if he came home having lost an arm or a leg, but this (PTSD) is worse," she said.

"It's the silent killer," said her husband. "We've had no help from the Army or social services or anyone.

"The Army pass it on to the NHS, but he's counselled out and there's just no help for him."

Mr Donaldson has raised James' case with the Secretary of State for Defence.

"We shouldn't rush to judge people like James who have served their country and have experienced some terrible things that have affected their behaviour," the MP said.

"James was discharged from the Army without any support and as a result of the trauma he experienced his life has deteriorated.

"We ought to recognise that when people have been in conflict we need to accommodate that.

"What we need now is for James to get the support he needs that he did not get at the outset. With the right help, it is possible for him to turn his life around."

Belfast Telegraph

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