Loyalist band members cleared over Catholic church parade ban
Published 04/03/2014 | 14:44
Seventeen members of a loyalist flute band were cleared today of defying a ban on them marching past a Catholic church in Belfast.
They had been charged with failing to comply with a Parades Commission prohibition on the Young Conway Volunteers passing St Patrick's Chapel.
But a judge dismissed the case against all of the defendants, who included three youths, because it could not be proved they knew about the determination.
The band members were prosecuted after being identified on the forbidden section of the route during a Royal Black Institution march in August 2012.
A month earlier the Shankill Road-based Young Conway Volunteers had been filmed walking in circles outside the church on Donegall Street.
The band denied claims that it was playing the sectarian Famine Song during the Twelfth of July demonstration.
Following that controversial incident the Parades Commission ruled that it should not pass St Patrick's on the 'Black Saturday' event.
Belfast Magistrates' Court was shown footage of the band then marching on the prohibited part of the route.
Defence solicitors argued that members had been unaware of the prohibition.
Keith Gamble pointed out that either the Parades Commission or the Royal Black Institution could have directly informed the defendants.
He also challenged police efforts to notify his clients and contended that signs erected on the day would have been blocked out by crowds on the day.
"The situation is there was a particularly high presence around the Young Conway Volunteers that day," he said.
"Even two people standing in front of one of those signs renders it useless."
Prosecution lawyer John O'Neill referred to allegations of band members refusing to take a letter from police.
The court heard claims that one, unidentified, person did accept it but then crumpled it up and threw it on the ground.
Mr O'Neill insisted notification signs had been placed along the route, adding that a group of people had been on the road holding a banner "Respect St Patrick's Church".
He added: "The prosecution say that's another clue for the defendants.
"They all point towards them having known what they were doing."
However, District Judge Ken Nixon held that the prosecution failed to reach the standard of proof required.
He noted the evidence of thousands of people having been on the street and potentially "obliterating" the signs.
Acquitting all 17 accused, Judge Nixon said: "The standard of beyond reasonable doubt has to be established.
"On these facts the case against these defendants is dismissed."