I'll be even tougher on rioters this year, warns leading judge
A Belfast judge has warned that the courts will hand out "stiffer custodial sentences'' if there is further public disorder during this summer's marching season.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland sounded the warning while jailing James Harding for eight months for rioting last summer.
Harding (30), of Lawnbrook Avenue, off the Shankill Road in west Belfast, had pleaded guilty to a single charge of riotous assembly on July 12, 2013.
Sentencing Harding to a further eight months on licence after his release, Judge McFarland said: "You and the public have to be aware that the courts are taking a firm view in relation to this type of offending and it has to stop. There has been pleas by politicians but they have been ignored.
"The courts have taken on the role of giving out determinate sentences for such offences.
"If this does not work this year, then you and others like you who come before a court will receive stiffer custodial sentences,'' he added.
Prosecuting solicitor John O'Neill told Belfast Crown Court that serious public disorder erupted on the Woodvale Road and Twaddell Avenue on the Twelfth of July after an Orange Order feeder parade was prevented by police from returning to the Ligoniel district past the flashpoint Ardoyne shops. "Police lines came under attack with ceremonial swords, fireworks, masonry, stones and bottles,'' Mr O'Neill told Judge McFarland.
"In total, 57 petrol bombs were thrown at police. Water cannon and accentuating energy projectile were deployed.
"Twenty police officers were injured with five being hospitalised.''
The court heard police evidence-gatherers were on duty armed with video and still cameras to capture those involved in the rioting.
Mr O'Neill said Harding was present at the riot for around half an hour and during that period he threw a total of three bottles at police lines.
"The defendant was seen with a scarf or a flag over his face. He is seen crouching down behind a wheelie bin and throwing a missile at police.
"He remained at the scene and is seen pushing the bin forward and throwing another bottle at police.
"He appeared to have been using the wheelie bin as a shield.''
Harding was arrested at his home on November 4, 2013 and during questioning admitted throwing a number of bottles at police. The court heard he told police: "I am sorry: It was a stupid thing to do.''
Defence barrister Finbar Lavery said Harding was a vulnerable person, who was easily led by others.
He suffered from depression, anxiety and epilepsy.
"He has expressed remorse and knows what he did was wrong," he said.
"He does understand the difference between right and wrong.''
Sentencing Harding to 16 months, with half in custody and half on licence, Judge McFarland told him: "You have to take responsibility not only for your own actions but also for the actions of others as a collective within that group who were rioting.''