Union flag protestor Jim Dowson handed suspended sentence for taking part in unlawful public processions
High-profile Union flag protestor Jim Dowson was today handed a three-month suspended prison sentence for taking part in unlawful public processions.
A judge in Belfast ruled out an alternative of imposing community service after hearing the 50-year-old is under threat from two different sources.
Dowson, originally from Scotland but with an address at Burn Road in Comber, Co Down, pleaded guilty to three counts of participating in un-notified public processions.
The offences, during January and February 2013, occurred during demonstrations at the decision to limit the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall.
Prosecutors said anyone involved in the marches broke the law because prior notice required under legislation was not given to police and the Parades Commission.
Demonstrators coming in from the east of the city passed sensitive interface locations, with disorder breaking out on some occasions.
Although it was not suggested that Dowson was involved in any trouble, Belfast Magistrates' Court heard he was captured on video footage taking part in three of the processions.
He was seen walking at the centre of one large crowd, and then at the head of two other marches, it was claimed.
John O'Neill, prosecuting, said Dowson at first denied any wrongdoing.
"He accepted being present but disputed that they constituted a procession," the lawyer told the court.
"He said he was an Orangeman but denied knowing any notification document had to go to the Parades Commission."
Dowson attended court for sentencing dressed in a tweed jacket, waistcoat and flat cap.
As he sat in the dock his counsel argued that he should be given credit for pleading guilty rather than fighting the charges.
Samuel Magee pointed out how fellow high-profile protestor Jamie Bryson contested similar charges before ultimately being convicted.
"Mr Dowson isn't someone who has put the court to the expense of a trial," the barrister said.
District Judge Fiona Bagnall was also told that the defendant had resisted any chance to "bang the drum" by fighting the allegations.
"In cases such as these defendants can use a trial to jump on their soap boxes," Mr Magee added.
"Mr Dowson hasn't done that, and that may have come as a surprise to some people who have looked at his public persona."
As part of the plea in mitigation he emphasised how the defendant was not involved in any disorder, instead urging others not to break the law.
At one stage in the hearing Judge Bagnall questioned Dowson's suitability for community service.
But she rejected that option after hearing how the apparent threats against him could lead to others being put at risk.
Imposing a three-month jail term, suspended for 18-months, she said: "I do consider these to be serious matters.
"The consequences borne out for our society have been significant, both for police resources, the inconvenience to people and the violence that has flowed.
"That's not to say anything of that was laid at the door of the defendant."