Court rules Stephen Matthews cannot go back to his family home amid ongoing protests over the Northern Ireland Protocol and potential marching season tensions
A man accused of leading a loyalist show of strength in east Belfast cannot yet return to live in the area, a High Court judge has ruled.
Stephen Matthews was refused permission to go back to his family home amid ongoing protests over the Northern Ireland Protocol and potential marching season tensions.
Mr Justice Horner held: "Now is not the right time to vary the conditions."
Matthews (58) is currently on bail over his alleged involvement in a gathering of up to 60 masked men at Pitt Park in the city on February 2.
The group is believed to be linked to the East Belfast UVF, prosecutors have alleged.
Previous courts heard disputed claims that 11 people living in the area fled their homes and sheltered in a nearby community centre for up to eight days.
Matthews, from Pansy Street in east Belfast, played a leadership role as the group of men heading into Pitt Park with faces covered by scarves and hoods, it was contended.
He denies charges of unlawful assembly and affray in connection with the high-profile incident. Two other men are accused of the same offences.
In April Matthews was released from custody on conditions which included a prohibition on entering Belfast.
Ordered to live under curfew at an address in Co Down, he was barred from being in the company of three or more people in public.
His legal team mounted a bid to vary his bail terms so that he could return to his home address permanently.
Defence barrister, John Larkin QC, cited family reasons and argued that time has passed without any further incidents in the area.
Prosecutors opposed the application due to concerns about any further tensions.
In his ruling Mr Justice Horner acknowledged the accused's personal circumstances and a "moving" statement provided by a relative.
But after citing the alleged "paramilitary overtones" in the case, he decided the risks involved in allowing a return could not be managed at this stage.
Identifying the loyalist marching season and continued public opposition to the Protocol, the judge confirmed: "It's against that background that I refuse the application."
However, he held out the possibility for Matthews to make a further request if tensions ease.
He added: "In the not-too-distant future the position may change."