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Songs by Star Trek enthusiast played in court in bid to clear loyalist flute band members of playing sectarian tune outside Catholic church

By Alan Erwin

Published 22/04/2015

Michael Yeo (22) threatened to kill her in the incident, during which he crashed into another vehicle, prosecutors claimed
Michael Yeo (22) threatened to kill her in the incident, during which he crashed into another vehicle, prosecutors claimed

Songs by a Swedish folk singer and a Star Trek enthusiast were played in court today in a bid to have members of a loyalist flute band cleared of playing a sectarian tune outside a Catholic church.

Footage of football fan chants also featured as defence lawyers urged a judge to throw out the case against all 13 accused.

The defendants, members of Young Conway Volunteers, are alleged to have taken part in a rendition of the Famine Song which marching in a circular formation outside St Patrick's Chapel in north Belfast.

Senior judges in Scotland have ruled the controversial tune - which includes the line 'The famine's over, why don't you go home?' - to be racist.

But the defendants have instead claimed they were performing the Beach Boys hit 'Sloop John B'.

Played to the same music, that song declares 'I feel so broke up, I wanna go home.'

The incident, during a Twelfth of July parade back in 2012, was the first in a series of flashpoint incidents at the Donegall Street location.

All 13 defendants are contesting a charge of doing a provocative act likely to cause public disorder or a breach of the peace.

On the third day of the trial at Belfast Magistrates' Court their lawyers sought a ruling that they have no case to answer.

Defence solicitor Keith Gamble argued that a tune alone cannot be sectarian.

To back his case he played video footage of seven different situations involving songs or performances using the same tune.

One clip featured Swedish folk singer Cornelis Vreeswijk, while in another the performer Voltaire was seen giving a rendition of a song entitled 'Screw the Ocampa' at a Star Trek convention.

Chants by football fans from Aberdeen, Glasgow Rangers and FC United of Manchester were also played.

The court heard further renditions, said to be of Sloop John B, by two other flute bands in neutral environments.

Mr Gamble argued that a series of notes alone cannot be classed as sectarian without accompanying lyrics.

The defendants were only playing their instruments at the time, he stressed.

According to barrister Richard McConkey, representing some of the other accused, the incident occurred during a natural break in the parade.

The band had not gone out of its way to stop in a contentious area, he submitted.

Reserving judgment on the defence application, District Judge Paul Copeland said he would give a ruling next week.

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