Loyalist bandsmen avoid jail terms for flouting music ban
Five members of a loyalist flute band have escaped being sent to jail for repeatedly breaching a ban on playing music at a notorious Belfast interface.
Handing down suspended prison sentences to the men, a judge told them they had "flagrantly" flouted the law over a four-month period on a stretch of Twaddell Avenue as part of ongoing protests over restrictions on an Orange Order march.
The defendants, all members of the Pride of Ardoyne band, breached a Parades Commission prohibition on tunes being played along that stretch of the road on up to 11 occasions between February and May last year.
Belfast Magistrates' Court heard their actions came amid an ongoing police operation to maintain peace in the area that was costing the taxpayer £35,000 a day.
The defendants, all from north Belfast, were: 26-year-old James Cosby of Glenbryn Parade; David Johnstone (24) from Westway Crescent; 38-year-old David John Murphy from Berwick Road; Robert Hayes Spence (57) of Alliance Road; and 24-year-old Gary Edwin Wells from Loughview Close. Four received six-month jail terms, while Cosby was given four months because he was involved on less occasions.
District Judge Amanda Henderson decided to suspend all sentences for three years after reading references from local councillors and church leaders.
All five men had contested multiple charges of failing to comply with Parades Commission conditions which banned the playing of music between Twaddell Avenue and the Crumlin Road in the north of the city.
While they didn't deny playing tunes in the area, they claimed to be unaware of the prohibition. They also made the case that they neither saw written warnings on the sides of police Land Rovers nor heard loudspeaker cautions.
Following a trial where 26 witnesses were called and CCTV footage was studied, Mrs Henderson ruled that the defendants must have been aware of the breaches.
As they returned to court for sentencing, defence barrister Joel Lindsay stressed how the defendants have abided by the determination since their arrests.
"The height of what they did was to play music; they didn't get involved in violence or further offending," he said.
The judge held, however, that the defendants appeared to have "minimised the gravity of the offences".
She said: "There was a constant repetition of offending over four months; (it was) a repeated and flagrant breach of the law."