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Loyalist bandsman wins legal battle to overturn conviction for attending illegal parade

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A veteran loyalist bandsman has won a legal battle to overturn his conviction for taking part in an illegal Eleventh Night parade.

Mark Officer (48) had been found guilty of participating in an un-notified march through a north Belfast neighbourhood in July last year.

But his conviction was quashed today after the prosecution failed to establish that he knew that authorisation had not been given for the 'No Surrender lockdown 2020' event.

Bandsmen took to the streets in the mixed Kilcoole area on July 11 despite the Parades Commission having previously refused permission for another march on the route.

At the time Covid-19 restrictions had been eased to allow the socially-distanced meeting of up to 30 people outdoors.

With large-scale Twelfth of July processions cancelled due to the pandemic, the aim was to bring smaller processions to people's homes.

Organisers lodged a further application just a day before the Kilcoole parade went ahead.

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Earlier this year Belfast Magistrates Court ruled that Officer, of Ardoyne Road in the city, would have known the Commission had not given approval.

He was convicted of taking part in an un-notified public procession and fined £750.

Appealing the guilty verdict, Officer insisted that he had no reason to suspect the parade was unauthorised.

He told Belfast County Court: "I've been involved in bands for 40 years, I've marched in thousands of parades, and I have never asked if they are lawful or unlawful.

"I just lift my instrument and away I go."

Defence barrister Richard McConkey also claimed the parade was not unlawful, arguing that no determination had been made by the Commission.

Based on coronavirus legislation in place at the time, he insisted that sufficient notification was given.

"The application went in before 5pm... I don't accept that it didn't give the Parades Commission time to determine it," Mr McConkey said.

Following submissions Judge Patrick McGurgan confirmed that the conviction is to be set aside.

He told Officer: "I do have a doubt in relation to your knowledge at the time (of) this parade, and given that only has to be proven on the balance of probabilities, I'm going to allow the appeal."


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